A Christmas Carol. Written by Richard Hellesen with music by David de Berry, this Christmas Carol has its strengths. It's respectful of the novel, using much of Dickens's original dialogue and description to tell the tale of the miserly businessman, Scrooge, and his conversion to kindness by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come. Also to their credit, Hellesen and de Berry have chosen to retain the dark side of the story and to honor Dickens's social conscience, rather than mounting a production that's purely sweetness and light. The set is charming, and the special effects work well. But this version also feels heavier and more sentimental than the one by Laird Williamson and Dennis Powers that it replaces at the Denver Center, and there are also a few howlers. Why, for instance, costume the Ghost of Christmas Past like some odd combination of golden-haired Vegas showgirl and Glinda the Good Witch? The cast's English accents are all over the place, and Tiny Tim is made so peripheral to the action that he seems almost an afterthought. Presented by The Denver Center Theatre Company through December 24, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed December 8.
The King and I. Some of the problems with this production are inherent in the show itself. With its emphasis on strong women and abhorrence of anything resembling slavery, The King and I was progressive for its time, but no artist can entirely escape the myths and preconceptions of his own culture. So Rodgers and Hammerstein showed the people of Thailand as caricatures -- the women seductive and giggly, the men stiff as cardboard cutouts. The King -- in some ways and on his own terms a wonderfully humorous and quixotic character -- is still in need of civilizing. And who best to do it but a white, upper-class Englishwoman? The songs endure. No one ever wrote better love songs than Rodgers and Hammerstein. Shelly Cox-Robie makes Anna charming and radiant, and her voice is sweet and pure. Wayne Kennedy does sterling service as the King, though he makes the character funny and cuddly; there's no hint here of the dangerous, mercurial figure we expect, and that would jolt the plot into life. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through March 26, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed November 10.
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.
Naked Boys Singing! No false advertising here -- the show's about naked boys singing. The real thing. The full monty. Seven of them, some younger, some a little older, a couple more buff than others, flaunters and flirters and would-be hiders, and every one of them gallantly baring his body and showing his all. The production has no dialogue, plot or characterization; everything hinges on the songs, and some of them are pretty good -- the humorous narcissism of "Perky Porn Star"; the Brechtian rhythms of "Jack's Song," with its hilarious choreographic simulation of masturbation; the unexpected devilry of "The Bliss of a Bris." The serious songs work less well. This is a show that needs to be staged with an exuberance and energy that's somewhat lacking in the Theatre Group production. Presented by Theatre Group in an open-ended run, Theatre on Broadway, 13 South Broadway, 303-777-3292, www.theatregroup.org. Reviewed October 27.
Party of 1. This is a good play to go to with a date, or to attend in hopes of finding one. The show is a sequence of cabaret songs dedicated to the joys and pains of singlehood, slightly reminiscent of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, though without the monologues; fizzier and more light-hearted than Sex and the City, but less weighted with ego and pretension. Four appealing people spin through songs with topics ranging from the insecurities raised by meet-and-mingle functions through concerns about bad breath to the intense ambivalence you feel when someone with whom you're having a great relationship actually takes the next step and moves into your apartment. Party of 1 ran forever in the Bay Area, where writer-composer Morris Bobrow is famed for his clever lyrics and bright, listenable tunes. Good-natured and enjoyable, with just an edge of grown-up irony, the show deserves its popularity. Presented by the Playwright Theatre through January 31, 2119 East 17th Avenue, 303-499-0383, www.playwrighttheatre.com. Reviewed November 17.
Shadowlands. This is a dignified, classy play, but for the most part, oddly lifeless. Set in 1950s England, it begins as C. S. Lewis, the creator of Narnia and a series of deeply Christian books for adults, gives a lecture on the topic of suffering, speculating that it must be a force intended by God to shape and perfect us. Shadowlands is biographical, based on the relationship between Lewis and poet Joy Gresham, who died of bone cancer, although the script takes a couple of liberties with fact and chronology. As the play opens, Lewis is in his fifties and Gresham and her young son, Douglas, blow like a bracing wind into his fusty, ordered, donnish world of tea and muffins. Nonetheless, this act is very static. Lewis and Gresham become friends. They take walks together; they sip tea. We're hoping for witty or insightful repartee. Surely these two writers left behind some bon mots and insights worth stealing in their books and papers? But most of the dialogue is disappointingly earnest and predictable, and the characters simply aren't very sharply delineated. Presented by Bas Bleu through January 7, 401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, 1-970-498-8949, www.basbleu.org. Reviewed December 1.
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