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.
Fire on the Mountain. Fire on the Mountain is an evocation of the lives of Appalachian coal miners in the first few decades of the twentieth century, told primarily through song, with snatches of dialogue and narrative taken from interviews, diaries and news stories. A cast of eight astonishingly talented actor-musicians performs a range of music -- from lyrical folk ballads to country tunes, blues laments and romping, stomping hillbilly bluegrass -- singing and playing fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar and harmonica. Several of them play more than one instrument. As the actors perform their intricate and passionate harmonies, the men and women whose stories they're telling gaze at us from old photographs projected on two lighted screens. The lives of these miners were harsh and dangerous. Fire on the Mountain shows us a young boy who can't wait to go to work in the mines, and we also see the sick old men, suffering from black-lung disease and with nothing to leave their children, lamenting the lives they have spent essentially digging their own graves. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through April 30, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 14.
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.
The Madwoman. This version of The Madwoman of Chaillot, updated as The Madwoman, is set in contemporary New York rather than Paris. The play was written by an ailing Jean Giraudoux during World War II, but its themes remain relevant. A gently ironic fairytale with underpinnings of real anger and sadness, Madwoman tells the story of the near destruction of a great city by greedy contractors seeking the oil under the sidewalks. These men -- in this production, a senator, a CEO, a stockbroker and a geological engineer -- are thwarted by the Madwoman, Countess Aurelia. But Aurelia has her own regrets, and these, too, are resolved before the end of the evening through the gentle agency of young love. Director Israel Hicks has done a fine job of updating the milieu, and Giraudoux's traditional street figures -- a Rag Picker, Flower Vendor, Deaf Mute and Street Singer among them -- find new life on New York's streets, joined by a bicycle messenger and a breakdancer. Enter Aurelia, with her fading and selective memory, passion for life and steely determination -- emblematic, in some ways, of the city itself. Finally, the play is an assertion of the power of imagination over reality, the politically weak against the strong, and the forces of life against those of death. Some of the updating of the material, the exhortations to fight for what's right, seem a bit heavy-handed, and there are moments that verge on sentimentality, but overall, this is a rich, vivid and satisfying production. And what a joy to see almost all of the finest members of the Denver Center Theatre Company working together, some in small roles, some in slightly larger ones, and enlivening every corner of the stage. In the center of all the action stands Kathleen M. Brady as the Madwoman, exuding kindly certainty. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through April 30, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 7.
Paris on the Platte. Joan Holden's play is a comic romp through early nineteenth-century Denver history, focusing on Mayor Robert Speer and his dreams of the City Beautiful. Speer was a genuine visionary. Inspired by two trips to Paris, he cleaned up Denver's streets, unclogged garbage-laden Cherry Creek, built an auditorium, created parks and laid plans for a civic center. But there was another side to these activities. He also ignored prostitution, pandered to business and shamelessly rigged elections. The play is episodic, with no clear story arc. The acting is presentational, though not always without feeling. The action is accompanied throughout by the clean, swift playing of pianist David Dunbar, working in styles as various as ragtime and Chopin, and Tupper Cullum does full justice to all the aspects of Speer's complex character. Holden has a keen political and satirical eye for civic issues, and this is a highly enjoyable history lesson. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through April 23, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed March 31.
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