The Big Bang. Sometimes it's nice not to have to think too much, to just sit back and watch a couple of frenetically energetic guys work really hard to earn your good will -- and your entertainment dollars. Oh, and to make you laugh. The Big Bang posits the following: 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, but never 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, 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 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 Christine. Yeston's lyrics are uninspired, but his music is fluid and sometimes beautiful, from "As You Would Love Paree" to the tender "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 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.
Season's Greetings. Although clearly not Alan Ayckbourn's best, Season's Greetings is still very funny -- more consistently funny than the current Denver Center Theatre Company production makes it seem, although there are some moments of extraordinary hilarity. It represents an antidote not only to the usual Christmas saccharine, but also to all the half-baked, skit-filled attempts to make the holiday hip. Season's shows a dysfunctional middle-class family gathering for their annual celebration. These people have no illusions: They've spent too many Christmases together, and the predominant emotion is dissatisfaction coupled with faint loathing. This Christmas offers a variation on the annual routine, however: The hostess's virginal 38-year-old sister has invited a beau, a novelist who's just beginning to make a name for himself. The first act starts a little slow, but once the play gets going, it's like a speeding train, with one anarchic development following another and each plot device clicking neatly and hilariously into place in the brilliant way of classic farce, even if the climax is unexpectedly dark. Flaws and all, we'll take this over the usual Christmas fare. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 23, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org.
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tempOdyssey. We see a darkened stage, a file cabinet suspended in the air and looming slabs that could be canyon walls, 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 is cataclysmic. TempOdyssey is very funny in places, but funny isn't really the point. 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, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed November 16.
Urinetown. From its unappetizing title to the use of a narrator -- Lockstock, a police officer who pontificates humorously about exposition, metaphor and politics for the benefit of a Dickensian orphan named Little Sally -- Urinetown is a self-consciously anti-musical musical. The songs are tuneful, varied and appealing, and almost every one parodies a famous number from another show: Fiddler on the Roof, Les Miserables, West Side Story. Urinetown takes place in a city that has suffered a severe drought, where authorities have banned private toilets and everyone has to pay to use the public facilities. Producer-director Dan Wiley has staged this production in Denver's Wastewater Management Building, where the acoustics are problematic but the setting cleverly underlines the script's self-referential quality and keeps the audience alert and amused. Despite the upbeat humor, there's a rather nasty Malthusian political message here: The poor are responsible for the degradation of the environment and need to be kept in check by corporations. But you don't have to agree with the politics to appreciate the show's audacity and its alternately ironic and rollicking humor. Presented by Score Marketing through December 17, Public Works Wastewater Management Building, 2000 West Third Avenue, 303-274-1325, www.urinetowndenver.org.