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., 1634 18th Street, 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 on stage, 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. August 19, 20, 26 and 27, 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.
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.
Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night begins with the lovestruck Count Orsino ordering up music to match his pleasurably melancholy mood. When his "If music be the food of love, play on" is answered by cheerful calypso sounds and he proceeds to practice a few dance steps, you know you're in the hands of either a very daring and sure-handed director, or one who doesn't have a clue what the play's about. Unfortunately, it turns out that Robert Cohen falls into the latter category. The female protagonist of Twelfth Night is Viola, one of those Shakespearean heroines who combine intelligence, strength and resilience with vulnerability and a gift for steadfast love. A storm at sea washes her onto the shores of Illyria and -- she believes -- kills her twin brother, Sebastian. She puts on men's clothes and joins Count Orsino's household as a servant. Pretty soon she falls in love with him. But Orsino loves Olivia, a beautiful woman who's mourning the death of her own brother and refuses to return his love. He sends Viola, now called Cesario, to do his courting for him. Thinking Viola is a man, Olivia promptly falls in love with her. The subplot concerns the farcical goings-on in Olivia's household, as well as the humiliation of the narrow-minded, judgmental steward, Malvolio. This production provides lots of capering and a very funny duel with croquet mallets. But it makes a farce of the scenes between Viola and Olivia and entirely ignores the play's deeper themes of love, sorrow and redemption. Worst of all, it simply butchers the poetry. The one reason to see it is Sean Tarrant, who, as Malvolio, reveals a lithe, uninhibited zaniness worthy of John Cleese. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in rotation with The Winter's Tale and Othello, through August 12. Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado campus, Boulder, 303-492-0554. Reviewed July 28.
The Winter's Tale. The Winter's Tale is a peculiar hybrid of a play. It begins as tragedy, then lurches into full comic mode. There's a sixteen-year gap in time, more comedy, and it's back to gravitas for the final scenes. The play contains many familiar tropes -- the loving wife wrongfully accused of adultery, the baby left in the wilderness to die, the prince who falls in love with a beautiful shepherdess and discovers that his shepherdess is of royal birth. But Shakespeare's primary focus seems to be more bittersweet. He's writing about love and loss and, as the title suggests, the cycle of the seasons and the way it mirrors our passage through life. As Sicilia's King Leontes watches the interplay between his pregnant wife, Hermione, and his lifelong friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia, he becomes convinced that the two of them are sleeping together and proceeds to destroy his entire family, imprisoning his wife, ordering his newborn daughter abandoned to the elements and causing his young son, Mamillius, to die of grief. Hermione collapses and is carried off stage unconscious. Leontes is told that she, too, has died. Then the action becomes rollicking and pastoral, and Shakespeare seems to be painting by the numbers. But at the end, as at the beginning, the focus is on Queen Hermione, whose apparent return from the dead is reminiscent of the coming of spring to an ice-locked world. The Colorado Shakespeare Festival offers a thoughtful and well-acted production of a slightly broken-backed play. Presented in rotation with Twelfth Night and Othello through August 13, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado campus, Boulder, 303-492-0554, www.coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed August 4.
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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