Ain't Misbehavin. Five terrific performers and a slate of Fats Waller songs. How can you go wrong? Ain't Misbehavin', a jazzy, bluesy Waller showcase that brings the world of 1930s Harlem to life, is often staged in a broadly presentational style, with lots of humor, shtick, dancing and acting out, but the Country Dinner Playhouse version -- directed and choreographed by General McArthur Hambrick -- is so busy, jiggly, shrieky and jumpy that the production actually detracts from the music. Which is a shame, because the music is so full of life and brilliance, from the flirtatiousness of "Honeysuckle Rose" through the infectious rhythms of "The Joint Is Jumpin'" and the aching strains of "Black and Blue." And LaDonna Burns, Jayne Trinette, Kenny Moten, Eric Lee Johnson and Mary Louise Lee are not only wonderful singers, with voices full of poignance and power, but charming and seductive performers. Some of the most appealing songs come in the second act, which contains the earthy humor of "Your Feet's Too Big" and "Fat and Greasy," along with touching ballads such as "Mean to Me." The cast seems to find its feet here, too. Presented by Country Dinner Playhouse through October 30, 6875 South Clinton Street, Greenwood Village, 303-799-1410, www.countrydinnerplayhouse.com. Reviewed September 29.
All My Sons. Joe Keller, the protagonist in All My Sons, has sacrificed everything -- including his ethics -- to build up his business and support his family. He ran a factory during the war when productivity was key, and he allowed a shipment of defective parts to be sent out; the result was the death of 21 young American pilots. But Keller was able to shift blame for the crime onto his former partner, Steve Deever, who is serving time as the play opens, while Keller seems to be living a good, all-American, small-town life -- even though his eldest son, Larry, was killed in the war. Keller is popular with his neighbors and gets on well with his surviving son, Chris. But Keller's wife, Kate, has never accepted her son's death, and when Chris makes it known that he intends to marry Ann Deever, Steve's daughter and Larry's one-time fiancée, she employs every trick of tongue and piece of manipulation she can muster to separate the young couple and -- as she sees it -- keep her family intact. The issues examined in Arthur Miller's play are cogent and wide-reaching, and they seem particularly relevant now. There are some creaking plot devices and melodramatic sequences, but there are also moments of humor, eccentricity and surprise, and the play remains riveting throughout. This is a strong, clean, well-acted production. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through November 5, the Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed October 20.
The Fourth Wall. Playwright A.R. Gurney is a courteous, upper-crust kind of guy, so when he found himself enraged by national politics, he didn't respond with agitprop or searing realism. Instead he imagined a comfortably middle-class housewife, Peggy, who -- by way of protest -- rearranges all the furniture in her living room so that it faces an imaginary theatrical fourth wall. Pretty soon, anyone entering Peggy's living room begins behaving like a character on a stage, and the resultant mix of realism and the actors' frantic bouts of self-aware staginess creates a cascade of evocative moments and clever jokes. There's also a piano that plays Cole Porter all by itself. As interior designer Julia preens and poses, Peggy's husband attempts to understand her and theater professor Floyd urges Peggy to explore new forms of theater, Peggy herself stays true to her vision. She believes that beyond her sheltered world there are people of every race and nationality who can be persuaded to march on Washington and halt the madness of George W. Bush's foreign policy. This production focuses more on surface comedy than on Peggy's rage and sadness, however, which makes it amusing but ultimately inconsequential. Presented by the Avenue Theater through May 22, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed September 1.
Impulse Theater. Basements and comedy go together like beer and nuts or toddlers and sandboxes. The basement of the Wynkoop Brewing Co., 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.
Misery. It's impossible not to know at least part of the story. Paul Sheldon, a successful writer of romance novels, is driving to the Colorado cabin where he likes to write, when he skids off the road. He wakes to find that his legs are mangled, and he's been kidnapped by a crazed woman, Annie Wilkes, who claims to be his number-one fan. Annie is controlling, needy and manipulative, giving him his painkillers or withholding them at will. When she purchases the latest installment in his series of novels and discovers that his heroine, Misery, has died in childbirth, she's incensed. Paul will write a new novel, Annie decrees, in which Misery returns to life. It's easy to see where King got the idea for this plot. He must have spent years contemplating the price of fame, the relationship of author to readers and the odd symbiosis between the two. All he had to do was imagine this relationship corrupted and carried to the extreme. Though the beginning scenes are a little static, things become pretty entertaining once a recovering Paul begins banging out Annie's requested novel. You can sense King parodying both romance fiction and his own work. In all, a well-done production. Presented by Paragon Theatre through October 29, Phoenix Theatre, 1124 Santa Fe Drive, 303-300-2210, www.paragontheatre.com. Reviewed October 13.
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; 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 never allow a moment of reflection or understatement. Sinatra was the guy sitting alone on a bar stool in a pool of light, 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.
Realism: The Mythical Brontosaurus. Known for a prankish and highly literate experimentalism, Buntport Theater is currently experimenting with realism. Of a sort. Jack lies on his bed, alternately reading and staring into space. He's suffering a crisis of faith centered on the status of the brontosaurus. Into Jack's house blunders his sister, Fiona, with her fiancé, Michael. Once she realizes that Jack is closed in his room, Fiona tries everything in her power to get him out. Michael, meanwhile, needing to take a dump, is interested only in some quiet time alone in the bathroom. The quartet of performers is rounded out by Ben, Jack's calm and commonsensical lover, who is far more willing than Fiona to allow Jack to untangle his skein of twisted emotional and philosophical speculation on his own. The play touches on heavy themes, but the writing is light, deft, witty and completely lacking in sentimentality. And it turns out that the Buntporters are skilled and appealing straight actors. Presented by Buntport Theater in rotation with Horror: The Transformation through December 10, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed October 20.
El Sol Que T Eres. For this ambitious production, Su Teatro artistic director Anthony J. Garcia has transposed the story of Orpheus and Eurydice to modern-day Mexico, intertwining it with contemporary politics and elements of Aztec myth and adding music by composer Daniel Valdez. It's a fascinating concept, and parts of it work well, but there are also sections that seem flat or obvious. Here, the Lord of the Underworld becomes an evil drug lord named Narciso, and hell itself his lair. Into Narciso's den stumbles a gaggle of young North American women, students on some kind of field trip, and among them is the beautiful Chicana Rudi. Rudi falls in love with Orfeo, but Narciso interrupts their wedding and steals away the bride, and Orfeo must go to the underworld to retrieve her. The visual and mythic aspects of this production are the ones that work best. Presented by Su Teatro through November 6, King Center, Auraria campus, 303-296-0219, www.suteatro.org. Reviewed October 13.
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