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 27, 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.
Cyrano. The trouble with Heritage Square's Cyrano is that the company has abandoned the hybrid style that's all its own -- one that involves wild improvisation and lots of audience participation -- and decided instead to play the story of the long-nosed wit and fighter who's afraid to reveal his love to the beautiful Roxanne pretty straight. T.J. Mullin, who plays Cyrano, specializes in an understated on-stage humor that's the antithesis of Cyrano's swashbuckling. And Annie Dwyer can do that demure-heroine thing all right, but she's far more interesting when she's flashing baleful glances at the man in the audience who's been brash enough to question her beauty. For the second part of the evening, the cast tackles the songs of Stephen Sondheim -- whose works are notoriously difficult to play and sing -- and does well with them, giving us a medley of songs that's so charming and tuneful, you want the music never to stop. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through May 8, 18301West Colfax Avenue, D-103, Golden, 303-279-7800, www.hsmusichall.com. Reviewed March 10.
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.
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.
Recent Tragic Events. In a Minneapolis apartment, a young woman, Waverly, is getting to know Andrew, a blind date introduced to her by a pretentious mutual acquaintance in New York. Andrew is attracted to Waverly but not sure he's ready to get involved. The dialogue is light and funny. Except that the date is September 12, 2001, and Waverly, is waiting to hear from her sister, Wendy -- a twin who's in some ways her other self. Wendy has been living in New York and hasn't called since the attack. Still, Waverly has her anxiety under control. She knows the phone lines are clogged. And she has no reason to believe that Wendy was anywhere near the World Trade Center at the time of the explosion. Andrew and Waverly are joined by a goofy neighbor, Ron, along with Ron's silent friend Nancy. Waverly's great-aunt, Joyce Carol Oates, also makes an appearance. As a sock puppet. Everyone drinks, plays cards and argues about determinism. The play is funny and hip -- as when Andrew tries to summarize Oates's entire oeuvre for Waverly in a few minutes. But it's also genuinely sad, and you have to admire the delicacy and incisiveness with which Wright tackles his difficult topic. Presented by Next Stage through March 26, Phoenix Theatre, 1124 Santa Fe Drive, 720-209-4105, www.nextstagedenver.com. Reviewed March 17.
Testosterone Monologues. Poet-performer Ed Ward tells three tales about maleness, each set in a very specific American time and place. The first is a silly-funny ghost story set in 1880s Denver, written to amuse Ward's six-year-old son. The second, set in 1976, provides a revealing flashback to Denver hipster street life post-Kerouac but before the greedy '80s and corporate '90s. But it's Ward's final monologue, "Jerry Judge," that really lifts the performance above the sphere of the mundane. He evokes his inner-city boyhood in early 1960s Philadelphia, the relationship he formed in college with an upper-middle-class Jewish anthropologist fascinated by his background and the atmosphere in a Philadelphia bar on the night when local tough guy Jerry Judge takes on heavyweight champ George Foreman. Presented through March, PS 1515, 1515 Madison Street, 303-322-9324. Reviewed March 17.
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