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 January 27, 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 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.
Ebenezer. Heritage Square's version of A Christmas Carol makes up the first half of the evening, and it's swift and workmanlike, lower-key than many of the group's other offerings. As always, the performers play things right on the edge. Their style is so informal, they're so in touch with the audience, that sometimes they seem more like the hosts of a pleasant amateur evening than the highly skilled singers and comics they are. There are funny bits scattered through Ebenezer, but for the most part it's presented pretty straight, with director-actor T.J. Mullin emphasizing Dickens's message about compassion. After the intermission, the cast cuts loose in a couple of songs. "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" has all the slick and demented synchronicity we expect of Heritage, and there's also a terrific bit in which musical director N. Randall Johnson sings "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" while the other performers interrupt him at random intervals to reel across the stage in reindeer costumes, lamenting, bickering, cracking jokes and improvising wildly. Things get a bit more serious as Mullin sings "O, Holy Night," and then the caroling becomes outright churchy. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through December 31, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800, www.hsmusichall.com. Reviewed December 21.
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.