Around the World in 80 Days. The Victorians became increasingly fascinated with stories of adventure as technological advances in travel made their world smaller and more accessible. It didn't hurt that so much of that world map was colored an imperial red. In his famous novel Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne makes fun of the British, creating in Phileas Fogg the kind of imperturbable Englishman who ventures into foreign lands with no concern for local tradition or custom, taking his tea and kippers wherever he goes. Fogg makes a bet at his gentleman's club that he can circumnavigate the globe in eighty days. He's accompanied on his journey by Passepartout, a Frenchman as acrobatic, voluble and emotional as Fogg is stiff and inexpressive. The two are followed by a Scotland Yard detective who mistakenly believes that Fogg is a thief, and they encounter many adventures, most notably rescuing Aouda, a beautiful Indian woman who's about to be set ablaze on her husband's funeral pyre. Unfortunately, the staged version is static. Over and over again, some character or other (five actors play dozens of roles) explains where the travelers are and what has just happened. The moments that work best are those when something is actually happening on the stage: the ingenious creation of an elephant from a variety of props, for instance, and the dazzling scene when Passepartout rescues the unconscious Aouda. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 18, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado, Boulder, 303-492-0554, www.coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 5.
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, www.cirquedusoleil.com. Reviewed June 28.
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A Midsummer Night's Dream. The action in A Midsummer Night's Dream is framed by a wedding ceremony between Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and his warrior queen, Hippolyta. We watch a group of working stiffs rehearse a celebratory play for the couple, urged on by the irrepressible Nick Bottom. Four young people disappear into the forest: Hermia and Lysander, who have been forbidden to marry by Hermia's father; Helena, trundling after Lysander, whom she loves; and Demetrius, Hermia's spurned suitor. The forest is ruled by the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, who happen to be feuding. Within this magical, oneiric place, realities dissolve and the lovers are bamboozled by Oberon and his trickster fairy Puck into losing track of their original alliances and switching partners again and again. Meanwhile, Oberon has arranged for Titania to fall in love with Bottom. Not only that, but he's replaced Bottom's head with that of an ass. The interrelated themes are that love is crazy and lovers blind, that we all live in a world of illusion, and that theater itself mirrors this shifting, upside-down world. Director Gavin Cameron-Webb gets all this. His set, a stage within the Mary Rippon stage, is simple, elegant and workable. The actors own the words they speak, and as a result, you hear the lines clearly. Once that happens, any Shakespeare production is halfway home — particularly this one, with its melting poetry. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 18, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado, Boulder, 303-492-0554 www.coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 5
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, www.sistasandstorytellers.com. Reviewed June 14.
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, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. 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, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed June 21.