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.
Poignant Irritations. Local playwright Melissa Lucero McCarl has undertaken a life of Gertrude B. Stein and her longtime lover -- or more accurately, wife -- Alice B. Toklas. The result is intriguing, mind-teasing, often moving and not without flaws. Poignant Irritations is too long, and some of the first-act dialogue seems arch. An expatriate who lived in France, Stein created a salon filled with extraordinary works of art, frequented by Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and other members of what she dubbed the Lost Generation. Stein was a fierce advocate of cubism, and tried to utilize cubist theories in her writing, which is rhythmic and highly repetitive. Some of the best passages in the play are those in which Stein explains herself, as when she lectures on the meaning of her well-known and much-derided line "Rose is a rose is a rose." True to the spirit of its protagonist, Poignant Irritations is a scatter of a work, with no plot or straightforward timeline. Some of the scenes are resonant, piquant or funny; some are a perfect marriage of language and feeling. Halfway through Poignant Irritations, the two actresses change roles -- an illustration of the intense closeness of Toklas and Stein. The results are mixed. But these are fine performances, and with some tinkering, Poignant Irritations will be a first-rate play. Presented at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture through May 22, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360, www.mizelcenter.org. Reviewed on April 21.
The Rocky Horror Show. The Rocky Horror Show tells the story of an innocent young couple whose car stalls on a country road, who then enter a sinister castle searching for a phone. What follows is a parade of freaky characters and a mishmash of horror-movie bits, with lots of sex and singing thrown in. The show is very much of its time. It premiered in the early 1970s, after the 1969 Stonewall riots that energized gay activists all over the country and led to a few years of joyous hedonism and self-assertion before the AIDS epidemic that shut all the rejoicing down. Part of the appeal of Rocky Horror -- which doesn't make a lot of sense, and isn't really particularly funny or shocking any more -- is the bond the musical has formed over the years with its audiences. People thronged midnight showings of the 1975 film in costume and carrying props. But those original devotees are in their fifties now, and anyone producing the show has to figure out an approach that will both intrigue the young and uninitiated, and satisfy those for whom it represented a coming-of-age ritual. The Pinnacle Dinner Theatre doesn't meet the challenge, though there's no shortage of talent on the stage -- particularly Nicholas Sugar as Frank 'N' Furter. But the venue is problematic, and the acoustics are bad. And then there's the note in the program forbidding audience participation. You might as well serve grilled tofu at a barbecue or stage opera without singing as perform The Rocky Horror Show sans audience participation. Presented by Pinnacle Dinner Theatre through June 5, 9136 West Bowles Avenue, Littleton, 720-214-5630, www.pinnacledinnertheatre.com. Reviewed April 21.
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