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, 1-970-498-8949, www.basbleu.org. Reviewed June 30.
The Full Monty. The Full Monty follows a group of men who are out of work in Buffalo, New York. Amazed to discover that the women of the town are willing to pay high prices to watch a Chippendale-style strip show, the men decide they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by staging a similar extravaganza. The originator of the plan is the charmingly irresponsible Jerry Lukowski, who's desperate for money to meet support payments for his teenage son. Jerry's best friend, Dave Bukatinsky, has sunk into a marriage-threatening depression; he eats to console himself and has developed a formidable paunch. Stripping is the last thing on his mind. This is a good-hearted, gentle show, adapted from the 1997 British film, with a focus on the ways in which the men overcome their insecurities. It's also smart and well-written. You really do like these guys, and the critique of conventional sexual politics is both funny and right on. There's a lot of wonderful singing and acting in this production. And in the wives' loving shrieks of encouragement at the final striptease, and the men's growing confidence, there's an exhilarating sense of a broken community coming together to reaffirm itself. Presented by the Arvada Center through July 31, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed on July 7.
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.
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 that's 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 you're entertaining a business client or out on a date, this is the show for you. But it's essentially a commercial enterprise rather than an evening of theater. The performers don't just sing the songs, they sell them. They're 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.
Rocky Horror Show. Rocky is a pastiche of clichés from science fiction, horror movies and pop culture. It's an uninhibited celebration of camp, aided by three decades of film and stage audiences who have clapped and sung along to the songs, flung various and specific objects onstage, lit flickering lights and offered randy verbal prompts. The action begins when innocent young Brad and Janet, who have just attended the wedding of a friend, get engaged. Within minutes -- naturally -- they find themselves stranded on a dark road in a pelting rainstorm. They seek shelter and a phone in the sinister castle of Frank-N-Furter, who's a mad alien scientist visiting Earth from the Planet Transsexual. The actors are never very far from you on the Avenue's tiny stage, and their hypnotically glazed eyes help make the production a total immersion experience. Should your attention falter for a moment, you'll find everything crashing back into focus when Sugar stalks onto the stage with his sinuously sweeping moves and crimson-lipped, lemon-wedge-shaped smile. This is Rocky Horror as it's meant to be -- a lewd and lurid midnight fantasy. Presented by the Avenue Theater at 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through August 6, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed July 14.
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.
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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.
Take Me Out. In Richard Greenberg's multi-award-winning play, the language is full of wit and unexpected insight, and the action trembles between funny and tragic. The story explores what happens when an admired baseball player tells the world he's gay. Darren is aloof, dignified, godlike to his fans. The son of a black father and a white mother, handsome and athletically gifted, he has led a life of privilege. He seems blind to the fact that his announcement is likely to cause problems. Predictably, everything changes in the locker room once he's made his announcement, and the contradictions are thrown into stark relief when the team brings in a new pitcher, an overgrown infant filled with grief and rage named Shane. At his first encounter with the press, Shane spews out a series of racist and homophobic epithets. Eventually, the story takes a turn toward tragedy. The play lacks a strong sense of overall unity but the writing is smart, enjoyable and thought-provoking, there are some wonderful scenes, and the characters are memorable. Curious gives the play a strong production, featuring several fine performances. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through July 23, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed May 1.
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.