Always...Patsy Cline. Always Patsy Cline is a light, mildly entertaining evening. You get an efficiently evocative set that's divided into three parts: a down-home apartment; an old-fashioned country bar, complete with jukebox; and, in the center, the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. There are two skilled singer-performers, one of them also a comic, working in front of a tight, professional group of musicians in cowboy hats. Bright, colored lights play over the scene, and audience participation -- clapping, whooping, singing along -- is encouraged, lubricated by beer, wine and martinis. This piece, adapted by Ted Swindley, is based on a real friendship between Patsy Cline and a fervent fan, Louise, but the singing is at the heart of the enterprise, and many of the songs are close to irresistible. Presented by Denver Center Attractions, Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed December 16.
Boston Marriage. For the entire first act, Boston Marriage is pure enjoyment. It's light and fast, and the language is dizzyingly clever and cleverly self-punctuating. The plot concerns two nineteenth-century women who live together in an arrangement termed a "Boston marriage." One of them, Anna, has snared a rich lover who has given her an emerald necklace; his contributions will help the pair survive financially. Claire has news of her own. She's infatuated with a young woman. Through all this, Anna's fuddled and incompetent maid, Catherine, makes frequent appearances, bringing tea, interrupting the conversation, adding oddly unrelated thoughts of her own. The second act of Boston Marriage isn't nearly as entertaining as the first, primarily because Anna, Claire and Catherine aren't really fleshed-out characters, but agglomerations of words. Things do get a bit more interesting as the action builds toward the O. Henry-style mini-revelation of the ending, though for the most part the plot doesn't bear much scrutiny. The dialogue is lots of fun, however. You should see Boston Marriage for the lift and flow of the language and the vicious charm of the women -- Robin Moseley as the dry-tongued Claire, and Annette Helde in a tour de force performance as the witty, sulky, vivacious and oblivious Anna. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 23, the Jones Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed November 11.
Cats. This company does as good a job with Cats as one can imagine. The dancing, choreographed by Stephen Bertles, who also directed, is seamless. The cast is lithe and graceful. They slither like snakes. They leap high and land without a sound. They're wonderfully into character, batting at each other with kitty-cat paws, or hissing or rubbing a head lightly against a fellow actor's shoulder. The voices and performances are also fine, and there are a few good numbers, such as "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer" and "Gus the Theatre Cat." There's also the T.S. Eliot factor: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is the dour old poet's most playful work. But this is still Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer-impresario who arrived on the musical-theater scene like a soggy gray blanket, snuffing out any sparks of wit or originality and leaving in their place a huge, throbbing, manipulative, faintly ecclesiastical and unfocusedly ecstatic swamp of sentimentality. It's a swamp that snares these dancing kitties' feet, no matter how high they try to leap. Presented by Boulder Dinner Theatre through May 1, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-442-5671, www.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed December 2.
A Christmas Carol. This is a strong production, with a beautifully evocative set by Robert Blackman -- an intricate puzzle column of objects, books, boxes, tricks and toys that first entraps poor old Scrooge, then gradually vanishes, leaving an almost empty stage filled with light (Don Darmutzer is the lighting designer). Lee Hoiby's music is moving but unsentimental; music director Lee Stametz does well with it, and the singing is often sweet but never showy. The late Andrew V. Yelusich's costumes are pure fantasy. This is a visual and aural feast. And the production values support the performances rather than detracting from them. Last year, the scenes at the Cratchit household felt saccharine. This year, they're touching. Harry Feder Pruett, who plays Tiny Tim, even manages to speak the overused line "God bless us, every one," with a quiet sincerity that makes it new. Randy Moore's Scrooge is a brilliant creation: He's pinch-mouthed and mean, but he's also an aging child, with a child's unconcern for decency and politeness, and also a child's vulnerability. Scrooge's story is a journey through death and into life, just as Christmas itself is an assertion -- primal and unstoppable, whether expressed in pagan rites or Victorian sugarplums -- that even when all trace of green has vanished and the world is locked in ice as gray as Scrooge's mean old heart, life flickers at the core and spring is bound to return. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 26, the Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed December 16.
Impulse Theater. Basements and comedy go together like beer and nuts or toddlers and sandboxes. The basement of the Wynkoop Brewery where Impulse Theater performs is crowded, loud and energetic. Impulse does no prepared skits, nothing but pure improv -- which means that what you see changes every night, and so does the team of actors. These actors set up and follow certain rules and frameworks; they rely on audience suggestions to get these scenes going or to vary the action. Your level of enjoyment depends a lot on whether or not you like the players. Charm is a factor, and so is the ability to take risks. Fortunately, the performers are clever and fast on their feet, willing to throw themselves into the action but never betraying tension or anxiety, perfectly content to shrug off a piece that isn't coming together. The show is funny when the actors hit a groove, but equally funny when they get stymied. So, in a way, the improvisers -- and the audience -- can't lose. Impulse Theater, oen-ended run, Wynkoop Brewing Co., 18th and Wynkoop streets, 303-297-2111 or www.impulsetheater.com. Reviewed June 3.
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Jacques Brel was a Belgian singer-songwriter whose reputation took flight in the 1950s and '60s. His songs influenced, among others, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Sting and Bob Dylan, and they have been sung by such diverse artists as Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone. They're verbally and musically complex, sentimental and cynical, worldly wise and world-weary, celebratory, funny. Has anyone since Gilbert and Sullivan fit words and music together so cleverly? And has the world's seamy underside been so powerfully expressed in music since Brecht-Weill? The evening starts with "Marathon," a fast, infectiously rhythmic number that whirls us through the twentieth century, from the bathtub gin of the '20s to the Depression, from World War II to contemporary space travel. The lyrics evoke several of the evening's primary themes. Brel sings of the dark side of life, of greed, lust, rank smells, human perfidy and the sorrows of aging. But there is tenderness, redemption and giddy pleasure here as well. The musicians are first-rate. The four singers excel individually and harmonize well together. So put on your spats and your high-button shoes: This is everything cabaret should be. Presented by the Theatre Cafe in an open-ended run, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100. Reviewed November 25.
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. "Chain of Fools" becomes "Change, Change, Change"; the opening line of "Heat Wave" transforms into "I'm having a hot flash"; and, in one of the evening's most successful numbers, the women beg the doctor for Prozac to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda." 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 January 2, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed June 17.
The 1940s Radio Hour. Set in the basement studio of a small radio station in New York City, The 1940s Radio Hour is a sequence of well-known and well-loved songs from an era when America was fighting a just war and patriotism was innocent. The songs are glued together by jokes, fragments of plot, and commercials for things like soap and refrigerators. Shannan Steele's near-orgasm over an Eskimo Pie is particularly funny, as is Duane Black's rendition of a laxative commercial. Although the talky sections are the least interesting parts of the play, the singing is so nice, the songs so fine and the musicians in the band so accomplished that the evening is a pleasure. Presented by the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities through December 26, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed December 9.
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