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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.

Crazy for You. George and Ira Gershwin were, without question, two of the most brilliant tune-meisters of American musical comedy, and in the early 1990s, playwright Ken Ludwig got the bright idea of writing a "new" Gershwin musical. He took familiar 1930s plot elements and created a knowing, affectionate book that both satirizes and pays homage to the musical-comedy genre. And then he grabbed fistfuls of those bloodstream-quickening Gershwin songs -- familiar numbers like "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me" (if you're not humming by now, you should be) -- and scattered them like jewels along the story's path. The voices are fine, and the cast and musicians talented and so enthusiastic that they simply sweep you into the fun. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through March 3, 2007, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, Reviewed November 23.

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

The Price. I want to like Arthur Miller's plays -- but the truth is, I have trouble with Miller even at his best. And The Price is far from his best. The action begins with Victor, a uniformed cop, wandering through a room full of furniture: desks and boxes, chairs, lamps, a harp, a crooked picture on the wall. Then his wife comes in and the two quarrel. We learn that the furniture belonged to Victor's father and he's about to sell it; Esther, a neurotic woman chronically distressed by her husband's lowly station in the world, insists that he get a good price. This provides the grounds for the play's informing metaphor. Soon Victor's bargaining with an ancient appraiser named Gregory Solomon. Enter Victor's brother, Walter, a rich, successful surgeon, and the talk begins -- argument, accusation, self-justification -- until you want to scream. Everything is heavy with symbolism, and the characters keep launching into cloudily poetic monologues, replete with sentences like "Why is finality always so unreal?" The plot should provide a sturdy underpinning for all this existential angst, but it just refuses to hang together. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through December 10, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, Reviewed November 30.

tempOdyssey. We see a darkened stage, a file cabinet suspended in the air and, on either side, looming slabs that could be the walls of a canyon, undersea formations or the mysterious rocks of Stonehenge. A woman's voice begins talking through the murk, saying something about the Big Bang. The lighting changes, and we recognize that the slabs make up a city skyline, but then there's another change and, no, they're only mundane stacks of filing cabinets. Issues of scale and the conflation of things great and small, primordial and ordinary, petty and portentous -- these are the elements that drive playwright Dan Dietz's text. As the play opens, the protagonist, Genny, has just secured a job as a temp at Ithaca Techno Solutions. Eventually she's befriended by another temp, whose name appears to be Jim. TempOdyssey is billed as a dark comedy, and at this point you're expecting something Dilbert-flavored, or perhaps a variation on Office Space. But the script is more an extended meditation on myth and personality, dailiness and doom, than a standard drama. Genny grew up on a dusty poultry farm in Georgia, where she killed chickens for customers. Obsessed by all the feathered corpses, she begins to believe she is death itself. Naturally, her impact on Ithaca Techno Solutions -- which involves a walking, talking dead boy and a bomb -- is cataclysmic. TempOdyssey is very funny in places, but funny isn't really the point. It has serious things to say, too, but they're things you can't really put into words. The play does have an impact, however: By the end, you feel as if you've just survived a huge, wind-driven surge of flame that heated your face and singed your hair but moved on, inexplicably, without harming you. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 16, Acoma Center, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, Reviewed November 16.


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