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 attract all kinds of people who might never think of setting foot in a conventional dinner theater. 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.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed July 15.
It's Hickenlooper's World -- We Just Live in It. Rattlebrain Theater Company is made up of a group of highly talented and appealing actors who have loads of stage presence. Director Dave Shirley, who also writes much of the material, keeps things buzzing along, and utilizes music and video clips to great effect. In It's Hickenlooper's World, the troupe's target is Denver and the city's relatively new mayor. Some of the skits are very clever and others only mildly amusing, but the cast performs with such enthusiasm and panache that almost everything works. The Rattlebrain regulars are all first-rate. They come across as vital, unpretentious, gently humorous and willing to try just about anything once -- which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like Denver. Presented by Rattlebrain Theater Company in an open-ended run, D&F Tower, 1601 Arapahoe Street, 720-932-7384, www.rattlebraintheatre.com. Reviewed May 20.
Menopause The Musical. Menopause The Musical is as much a phenomenon as a piece of theater. The plot is so fragile that even the cliche "whisper-thin" doesn't describe it. Four women -- no, four types -- meet at a lingerie sale at Bloomingdale's: Power Woman, Soap Star, Earth Mother and Iowa Housewife. They begin by bickering but discover that they have hot flashes, memory lapses and mood swings in common. They then proceed to sing parodies of iconic baby boomer songs. Most of the lyrics are not particularly clever, though "Good Vibrations" is put to hilarious use. For the most part, the show feels like a series of jingles advertising the possibility of a chipper menopause. The four actress-singers are all talented and give huge, vigorous performances, despite the fact that they are crudely and far too loudly miked. Presented by the New Denver Civic Theatre in an open-ended run, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-309-3773, www.denvercivic.com. Reviewed August 12.
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 November 14, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed June 17.
The Play's the Thing. This Fort Collins theater company always walks a thin line between professional and community theater, and The Play's the Thing definitively falls on the community side. The script, by Ferenc Molnár, is talky and somewhat dated, and the central situation is insufficiently risqué for the genre. If the play is to succeed at all, it requires deft direction, stylish sets and costumes and highly assured performances. Although it has some hilarious moments, the OpenStage production lacks these elements. Presented by OpenStage Theatre & Company through September 18, Lincoln Center Mini-Theatre, 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-221-6730, www.openstagetheatre.org. Reviewed September 2.
2nd Annual Summer One-Act Festival. These one-acts about the dramatic process itself are witty, playful and fun to watch, and they work well with each other. In Aaron Sorkin's Hidden in This Picture, a director is wrapping up a medium-budget movie. He has already sacrificed his original vision to the moneymen, and now he's down to the final shot, a long take that he hopes will restore his artistic reputation. His hopes are frustrated when three cows wander onto the scene. The Guest Lecturer is more absurd and over-the-top. A small regional theater, unable to sustain itself by staging the usual shows, hits on the device of inviting a series of guest lecturers and killing them, one by one, as sacrifices. Author A.R. Gurney has a lot of fun invoking the gods of ancient myth who were sacrificed for the health and fertility of the community and reminding us that the roots of theater lie in ritual. He also tosses in all kinds of double entendres and theater in-jokes. Eventually, the cast abandons all pretense of sustaining an illusion, and the play devolves into a series of pranks. The Guest Lecturer could use pruning, but it's very funny. Presented by Miners Alley through September 19, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed September 2.
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