The Big Bang. Sometimes it's nice not to have to think too much, to just settle back and watch a couple of frenetically energetic guys working really hard to earn your good will -- and your entertainment dollars. Oh, and to make you laugh. The Big Bang posits the following scenario: Composer Jed Feuer, played by Ted Keunz, and writer-lyricist Boyd Graham, played by Chris Bogert, are in an expensive penthouse apartment, pitching a musical called The Big Bang to a group of possible backers -- that is, the audience. The show will cost $83.5 million, run twelve hours and feature a cast of hundreds. The Big Bang is just as clever as it needs to be -- sometimes very, sometimes not so much -- but never clever enough to make you stretch your brain. It's never tedious, either, as we're whizzed through the history of the world in a set of musical numbers. Among the funniest: The Virgin Mary and Mrs. Gandhi bitch about the travails of motherhood -- because who but a mother cleans up after the miracle of the loaves and fishes? And what an embarrassment to have a grown son still in diapers! Presented by Playwright Theatre through December 16, 2119 East 17th Avenue, 303-499-0383, www.playwrighttheatre.com. Reviewed October 19.
Phantom. I like this Phantom, by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston, better than Andrew Lloyd Webber's more well-known version. The plot remains pure Victoriana, a mix of Gothic and Grand Guignol, but it seems less empty, placing more focus on the Phantom's inner life, and gives a more plausible explanation of his love for the beautiful singer Christine. Yeston's lyrics are uninspired, but his music -- a seamless mix of opera, music hall and musical-comedy rhythms and melodies -- is fluid and sometimes beautiful, from the pure joy of "As You Would Love Paree" to the tender strains of "You Are Music." Country Dinner Playhouse does an admirable job with this piece. Randy St. Pierre is a strong Phantom; as Christine, Tracy Venner-Warren has a good singing voice and turns in a polished performance. Dee Etta Rowe, playing the vengeful diva La Carlotta, pounces on every scene she enters and carries it off squealing between her teeth. But perhaps the best performance is that of Craig Lundquist, as an outwardly calm Carriere whose tamped-down passion is finally released in a full-throated baritone when he sings "You Are My Own." Presented by Country Dinner Playhouse through January 14, 6875 South Clinton Street, Greenwood Village, 303-799-1410, www.countrydinnerplayhouse.com. Reviewed November 2.
Saint Joan. Almost everything about this production of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan is superb -- with the exception of the director's basic concept, and that's a very big exception. The cast, led by Jessica V. Freestone as Joan, is strong, the set clean, suggestive and elegant, the script brilliant as ever. This strange, stubborn young peasant woman of fifteenth-century France emerges from obscurity to hearten her countrymen and lead them into battle against the English. As always in a Shaw play, the action is set in a matrix of talk, talk and more talk -- witty observations about politics and religion (which were pretty much the same thing in medieval Europe), about the nature of history, about humanity's place in the universe. This is a very long play, and director Peter Anthony was justified in cutting some of the endless chat. But he's also seen fit to add a supernatural dimension in the person of a white-clad Angel, with whom -- to the accompaniment of portentous music -- Joan periodically communes in distinctly un-Shavian language. He lingers on the outskirts of several scenes; when Joan is sentenced to death, he takes her in his arms. It's distracting, sometimes inadvertently funny, but always an affront to Shaw's rationalism and clarity of thought. Presented by Openstage Theatre through November 16, Lincoln Center, 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins, 970-221-6730, www.openstage.com. Reviewed November 2.
Someone Else's Life. Set on a motel patio, Someone Elses Life has neither momentum nor conflict, and the characters' tensions remain largely underground. Every now and then something spurts up like a guttering candle flame -- a flash of anger, irritation, a hint at a deeper emotion -- and then goes out. This play is not about narrative, not about action, but about a particular kind of feeling that all of us have had at one time or another: the feeling that we aren't leading the lives we were intended for, a complex nostalgia that encompasses our partners, careers, failures and successes, the things we've always wanted to do and haven't, the way we've mired ourselves in routine and dailiness until we can no longer see a way out. The plot is anchored by the middle-aged Rose and Alan, who seem reasonably contented, if mildly irritated with each other. There's also a pair of brothers, in town for their sister's wedding, and Amy, an escapee from another wedding -- that of her too-loved and too-cute younger sister. These people talk in twos and threes; wine is sipped and confidences shared and withheld. At the end, nothing much has happened; the significance is all in the texture and the subtext. Sometimes you want to scream at one of the characters, "For God's sake, do something!," but things finally click into place after the intermission. All of the performances are empathetic, and you can sense the actors' own dreams and memories sifting beneath the surface. Presented by Conundrum Productions through November 11, Buntport Theatre, 717 Lipan Street, 303-601-2640. Reviewed October 26.