The Elephant Man. The Elephant Man is based on the life of Joseph Merrick, who was born in Victorian London and suffered from a hideously deforming disease that resulted in overgrowths of bone and hanging excrescences of putrid flesh. Abandoned by his father and stepmother, Merrick became the primary attraction in a freak show, from which he was rescued by a doctor named Frederick Treves, and ensconced in London Hospital for tests. There his intelligence and poetic imagination were discovered, and he became something of a celebrity, receiving visits from the famed and wealthy. The direction at Bas Bleu is intelligent, with a focus less on the historical milieu than on the inner lives of Merrick and Treves. There are advantages to this approach, but also losses. Stetson Weddle's performance as Merrick is a little too subtle; sometimes the pace lags. Still, this is a thoughtful and sometimes moving production. Presented by Bas Bleu through July 23, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 970-498-8949, www.basbleu.org. Reviewed June 30.
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 isnt 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 cant 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.
My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra. The Denver Center production of My Way features four attractive, energetic performers with strong and differing voices; 53 of the best twentieth-century songs; a set thats beautifully designed both to please the contemporary eye and to evoke the period, with softened Formica colors flowing into each other and elegant forms; witty, attractive costumes; and three excellent musicians. So if youre entertaining a business client or out on a date, this is the show for you. But its essentially a commercial enterprise rather than an evening of theater. The performers dont just sing the songs, they sell them. Theyre full of energy. They bounce. They emote. They never allow a moment of reflection or understatement. Sinatra was the guy sitting alone on a barstool in a pool of light, shadows pressing in on him, the rakish angle of his hat belying the world-weariness of his soul. This seems an odd way to pay him homage. Presented by Denver Center Attractions in an open-ended run, Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed June 9.
Newsical. This show is bright, clever and fun, with catchy song rhythms, witty lyrics and very talented performers, but it has absolutely no edge. How much guts and originality does it take to beat up on Michael Jackson and demonize Martha Stewart -- particularly with huge fat targets like John Bolton and Tom DeLay wandering the public arena? But, of course, the producers plan to make money in both red and blue states, and we all know how tetchy everyone is about politics these days. So here's a song about Botox, and another about a family addicted to prescription drugs. Here are three loopy, drooly guys who lose their fear of flying by booking with Hooters Air. Several of the skits and songs are enjoyable. "W. Rides Again" features the drunken Bush girls celebrating their dad's election victory. A trio of old ladies trills about the joys of being felt up at the airport. There's a hilarious imitation of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and another of the new pope wearing stylish lederhosen. Newsical is a taste tantalizer rather than a meal, but it goes down well with a couple of glasses of wine. Presented by the New Denver Civic Theatre in an open-ended run, Black Box Cabaret, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-309-3773. Reviewed May 19.
Ruthless! the Musical. Little Tina Denmark was born with talent. No one knows where it came from -- her mother is a perky, cookie-baking, '50s-style housewife, her father always away on unspecified business -- but dancing and singing are clearly in her blood. So when Tina loses the lead in the school musical, Pippi in Tahiti, to Louise Lerman it's clear that the poor poppet is justified in any steps she takes to remedy the situation -- including murder. Soon Louise is swinging from her own skip rope, and Tina is playing Pippi. Ruthless is an extended piece of camp, a funny, silly pastiche of moments from Gypsy, The Bad Seed, All About Eve and every pre-'60s musical with a larger-than-life female star you can remember. Nonesuch Theater has mounted a highly entertaining version of the show, full of madly hamming actors and great voices. Presented by Nonesuch Theatre Company through August 13, 216 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-224-0444, www.nonesuchtheater.com. Reviewed June 2.
Summer Lovin'. Summer Lovin' is a string of songs held together with a thin thread of plot. A traveling troupe arrives at an old theater planning to stage a play, only to discover that the place is closed while its board contemplates converting it into an art-movie house. The photographs on the walls and the props and wigs in an old trunk inspire the actors to an outpouring of tribute and impersonation. It's difficult to square the simplicity and straightforwardness of the concept with the depth of pleasure the performance provides. A high level of musical skill is offered: All the performers sing and move well, and some of them play an instrument or two. The band, too, is terrific. The show's premise allows the cast to hop around through time and pick almost any number in any genre that they wish -- from an old music-hall routine to The Rocky Horror Picture Show's "Time Warp." It's hard not to enjoy a cast that's having such a good time and is so eager share it with you. Heritage Square Music Hall is more than a performance venue: It's a Colorado community. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through September 11, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, D-103, Golden, 303-279-7800, www.hsmusichall.com. Reviewed June 16.
The Wizard of Oz. The Boulder's Dinner Theatre production of The Wizard of Oz, under artistic director Michael J. Duran, hews very closely to the 1939 movie version, but it's done with such élan that the show never feels old. With bright, inventive sets, clever costumes, lively choreography and hyper-energetic performances, it's like a carnival ride that whisks you away in a swirl of color, movement, sound and simple nostalgia. As Dorothy, Emily Van Fleet faithfully channels Judy Garland, though she lacks the latter's sense of wonder. Her voice is a marvel, however, shading richly through melting variations in tone and color, and her rendition of "Over the Rainbow" had the audience spellbound. Several BDT stalwarts turn in riveting performances in other roles. Add inventive bits of direction, an excellent small orchestra, an adorable small dog and an ensemble full of fine voices and interesting personalities, and you have an extended frolic that both kids and adults can enjoy. Best of all, the production does full justice to Harold Arlen's wonderful songs. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 4, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed May 26.
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