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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, Reviewed October 19.

Defiled. On the stage upstairs at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, director Judson Webb has created a quintessential old-fashioned library room, with two desks bearing green-shaded lamps and a card catalogue in the back. The lights go out. Police sirens blare, and red and blue lights flash through the windows on each side of the building. The effect is stunning, but unfortunately, Lee Kalcheim's script is less so. The plot concerns librarian Harry Mendelssohn, who has rigged a crude dynamite bomb to a pillar and is threatening to blow up the library -- a magnificent and cherished civic structure -- if the card catalogue with which he has worked throughout his professional life is replaced by a computer. Enter Brian Dickey, a tired Irish cop who's close to retirement. It's Dickey's job to prevent Harry from detonating his bomb and, if possible, to get him out safely. This is a mildly interesting setup, but Defiled is a very static play. A lot of us fret about the dumbing-down of our culture and the fact that people aren't reading much these days. But Mendelssohn is an annoying spokesman. It's not just that he's whiny and neurotic; it's that his vision is so limited. He wants to stand for something important, something having to do with the future of civilization, but really, in his obsession with the card catalogue and his refusal to understand that computers can enhance as well as impede knowledge, he comes across not only as a Luddite, but as someone who wants to stop the process of change -- the very process of life. Presented by Theatre 13 through November 25, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th Street, Boulder, 303-443-2122, Reviewed November 9.

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, Reviewed November 2.


Capsule reviews

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 18, Lincoln Center, 417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins, 970-221-6730, Reviewed November 2.


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