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 through March 5, Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed December 16.
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.
Gypsy. Gypsy is the story of the ultimate stage mother. Rose is determined to make her Baby June a star. The act she concocts, featuring June and the child's reluctant sister, Louise, is an agglomeration of bits and pieces from every dumb child act in vaudeville. As the years pass, Rose recycles the same songs and lyrics and attempts to disguise the children's increasing maturity. The songs -- music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim -- are clever, original, tuneful and sometimes touching. The production feels tight, and the casting is first-rate. Susan Dawn Carson makes the relationships among Rose, her longtime lover Herbie and the children genuinely loving, and the fact that you like the character means that her selfish actions surprise you and place her ugly narcissism in stark relief. Marcus Waterman gives Herbie a sad integrity. And the playhouse has actually found some child actors who are a pleasure to watch. A very enjoyable evening. Presented by Country Dinner Playhouse through January 30, 6875 South Clinton Street, Greenwood Village, 303-799-1410. Reviewed December 23.
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. Presented by Impulse Theater in an open-ended run, Wynkoop Brewing Co., 18th and Wynkoop streets, 303-297-2111 or www.impulsetheater.com. Reviewed June 3.
Be Brave! a Night of Songs Honoring Brenda Worley Billings
TicketsTue., May. 10, 7:00pm
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 15, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed June 17.
Stop Kiss. Stop Kiss is about a slowly developing love affair between two women who don't, at first, know they're gay. Sara, an idealistic young teacher, has arrived in New York to take a job at an impoverished school in the Bronx. She comes to Callie's apartment because the latter has offered to take care of her cat, Caesar. As played by Hilary Blair and Elgin Kelley, both women are edgy and very charming, but the differences between the characters become more and more evident as the play progresses. So far, this is material for a gay -- though smarter and less narcissistic -- version of Sex and the City. But when the women finally kiss, on a quiet Greenwich Village street after a late-night visit to the White Horse Tavern, violence erupts. Sara is beaten into a coma; Callie is unable to protect her. This moment is the pivot around which author Diana Son has structured her entire play, but despite some harrowing scenes, Stop Kiss is at heart a comedy, held aloft by an irrepressible helium of warmth and good humor. Presented by Theatre Group through January 15 at the Phoenix Theatre, 1124 Santa Fe Drive, 303-777-3292, www.theatregroup.org. Reviewed December 23.
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