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, 2119 East 17th Avenue, 303-499-0383, www.playwrighttheatre.com. 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 wonderful discoveries such as "Slap That Bass," "Bidin' My Time" and "What Causes That," and scattered them like jewels along the story's path. Artistic director Michael J. Duran danced in the critically praised 1992 Broadway production of Crazy for You, and he re-creates some of Susan Stroman's choreographic magic here, including the long number that ends the first act and features all kinds of inventive movement as well as axes, hammers and human bodies used as musical instruments. Scott Beyette is a lithe, leaping, tapping wonder as Bobby, whose mother wants him to enter the family business but whose own ambition is to dance. Alicia Dunfee is an unexpected ingenue, perhaps a bit too experienced for Polly and less light on her feet than partner Beyette, but she brings her customary warmth and presence to the role. 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, www.theatreinboulder.com. 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, www.countrydinnerplayhouse.com. Reviewed November 2.
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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. Season's Greetings 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. It 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.
Winter in Graupel Bay. When you enter the theater, you find yourself facing what looks like the front of a long, low, open dollhouse with rooms on two floors. These spaces are inhabited by various eccentric characters and, with each of the five Buntport actors playing more than one role, the action flows easily from space to space. There's Polly, the little girl who serves as narrator; a pair of gossiping old crones; the hapless and perennially unemployed Andrew Fromer, with his dreams about a vaudevillian grandfather who played the rear end of a horse and longed to play the front. The day is the winter solstice, the tone nostalgic and tinged with melancholy. There's a touch of Thornton Wilder's Our Town here, as well as such multi-voice pieces as Dylan Thomas's Under Milkwood and Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology. A lot of the dialogue is literate and interesting, but other parts fall flat. While Winter in Grauple Bay is pleasant to watch, it's neither consistently comic nor consistently evocative. Presented by Buntport Theater Company through December 23, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed December 14.