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Corteo. Cirque du Soleil's Corteo is a fine experience — visually gorgeous, musically exhilarating and filled with acts of athleticism that take your breath away. The costumes and sets are lovely and evocative, with the kind of fanciful curlicues you imagine adorning a fairy-tale palace or a miraculous child's birthday cake. Angels hover over the action, their dresses and bodies making elegant shapes in the air and suggesting wondrous other dimensions. But Cirque's magic seems somehow diminished in this production. The story sounds a bit like self-parody: A clown is fantasizing or dreaming his own death, and all the acts represent both a celebration of life and an urging into the unknown. Still, there are many stirring individual moments: three women clad in silky, Victorian-style knickers dancing with jeweled, swinging chandeliers; children leaping joyously on preternaturally springy beds; an upside-down yellow creature crossing the stage on a trapeze; a tiny woman floating over the audience, held up by helium balloons. But the dialogue is banal, and some of the clowning is downright silly. Presented by Cirque du Soleil through August 5, Grand Chapiteau, Pepsi Center grounds, 1-800 678-5440, Reviewed June 28.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This hoary old Broadway musical is a cartoon of a show set in ancient Rome, inspired by Plautus and with an overlay of Borscht Belt humor. In case that's not enough, the show's slaves, eunuchs, courtesans, dumb and/or lascivious old men, requisite battle-ax of a wife and dopey ingenue couple are depicted in the flattened, brightly colored strokes we associate with the early '60s. Pseudolus is a slave who longs for his freedom. When his master, Hero, falls in love with a beautiful young courtesan he's spied through the window of the neighboring brothel, he sees his chance. He will acquire the lovely Philia for Hero in exchange for freedom. But, naturally, many pitfalls appear. Though the plot seems episodic at first, it's tightly constructed, with every element clicking tightly into place by the end. The first-rate cast is obviously having a great time, and there's not a weak link in it. Particularly noteworthy is the return of Denver favorite Kathleen M. Brady, who plays Domina. In all, this is a mildly enjoyable evening, and would be especially enjoyable after a good dinner and a glass of wine. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through July 8, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed May 31.

Sista's and Storytellers. This is not a play, and it's not exactly a cabaret act, either. It's sort of a cross between a slumber party and a church service, as a group of women who sang together as children in a choir called the Heavenly Voices come together for a reunion. They drink a little, nibble a little, discuss their romances and discover that friendship is a great healer. And also that any support friends can't provide will be supplied by Jesus Christ. The dialogue is vague and general, the tech minimal and the acting broad, but the evening is filled with music and song, and the voices of the six performers — though distorted and overmiked — provide every reason you'll ever need for a trek to the theater. Presented by the Black Box in the New Denver Civic Theatre, Thursdays through August 30, 721 Santa Fe Drive, 303-309-3773, Reviewed June 14.


Capsule reviews

The Sound of Music. Even in this excellent production, The Sound of Music remains pure treacle, with one-dimensional characters, an unconvincing plot and an oddly sugary view of the rise of Nazism. Some of the songs are very pretty — the title song, for instance, as well as "Climb Every Mountain," "I Must Have Done Something Good" and the nuns' beautiful chants. But it doesn't help that they're so over-familiar, and that other numbers , "My Favorite Things," "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," "So Long, Farewell" — are just plain icky. Scott Beyette, who directs, has cast the show well, though, and there are many sweet and appealing voices. As for the necessary plethora of adorable children, each comes across as individual and interesting, and not one is cloying, self-conscious or too cute. If any production could make me like The Sound of Music, this is it. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through August 31, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, Reviewed June 28.

The Taffetas: A Musical Journey Through the Fabulous Fifties. With the figure of Senator Joseph McCarthy looming over the American landscape, the 1950s were anything but fabulous, as the full title of The Taffetas asserts. This is a pre-packaged, lightweight, no-calories, go-down-easy sort of production, a cheap-to-produce moneymaker with no artistic or intellectual ambitions. But putting all this aside is surprisingly easy to do. The costumes are perfect, the choreography appealing. The songs range from silly to interesting to really pretty, and — most important — the four women in the cast are charming and talented. According to what evanescent plot line there is, these women are sisters from Muncie, Indiana, who are performing on a television program in New York and hoping to snare a slot on The Ed Sullivan Show. The singing is punctuated by genuine television commercials of the era, including the rhythmically percolating coffeepot that sold America on Maxwell House. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through September 16, Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, Reviewed June 21.

What the Butler Saw. Joe Orton is one of those working-class bad-boy authors that the British middle class so enjoys being poked in the eye by. In this play, he marries a proclivity for violence and the macabre with anti-establishment humor, satyriasis and the conventional tropes of farce — though he uses the latter in a mocking and self-referential way. While much of its mockery of religion, psychiatry and the engines of the state — not to mention Sir Winston Churchill — has lost its power to shock modern theater-goers, the playwright's lighthearted and lascivious treatment of rape and wife battery is very much out of tune with our times. Still, the play is fast-paced, surreal, illogically logical and cleverly constructed so that every insane act or comment comes together in some way by the end. Orton is telling us that all of England is a madhouse, and that his characters are really no crazier than a world the rest of us perceive as normal. Although the cast hadn't found its rhythm by opening night, black farce is something Germinal Stage usually does extremely well, and this production will no doubt find its inner lunatic before the run is over. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through July 8, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, Reviewed June 14.


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