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.
La Traviata. There's a reason this tale about the doomed love between a consumptive courtesan and an aristocrat is one of the world's most frequently performed. It's gorgeous, filled with luscious songs and expressive arias, full of pulsating emotion. But hearing La Traviata at the Central City Opera House is a particular treat: The place is small and well-constructed, so there's no need for amplification and nothing to impede sound. Jennifer Casey Cabot, who sings Violetta, has range, fluidity and an effortless coloratura. She's also a fine actress. Cabot is well supported by Chad Shelton as Alfredo Germont and Grant Youngblood as Germont's father, Giorgio. Director Justin Way emphasizes story and character, while conductor Martin Andre provides eloquent and fluid pacing. Though the tale is ultimately tragic, its movement provides the kind of sensual joy you feel when a particularly rich piece of chocolate dissolves in your mouth — but there's no cloying aftertaste, just one sweet, pure, clean sensation following another. Presented by Central City Opera through August 16, 124 Eureka Street, Central City, 303-292-6700. www.centralcityopera.org. Reviewed July 19.
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.
The Servant of Two Masters. Carlo Goldoni created the scenario behind The Servant of Two Masters in 1745 for a famed commedia dell'arte troupe, and eventually wrote down a script that's primarily pure silliness. This is the story of Truffaldino, servant to Beatrice, who is traveling dressed as her own brother after the latter's death at the hands of her lover, Florindo. She has come to Venice to persuade the father of her brother's betrothed, Clarice, to give her Clarice's dowry, which she will use to reunite with Florindo. When Florindo turns up in Venice, unaware that Beatrice is there or that she's in disguise, Truffaldino offers to become his servant, too, reasoning that two masters will mean double pay for him and twice as much food. Naturally, all kinds of confusion follows, with letters, money and challenges flying, usually delivered to the wrong recipient. There are contemporary references scattered throughout director Scott Schwartz's production, and while the costumes are gaudily eighteenth-century, they're accessorized with things like modern high-tops. All of the acting is broad and farcical, punctuated with many bits and shticks. Some of these seem trite, but others are very funny. In all, this makes for a pleasant-enough diversion. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 18, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado, Boulder, 303-492-0554, www.coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 12.
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.
Three Viewings. "Tell-Tale" is the first of the three monologues — each of them a negotiation with the dead —that make up Jeffrey Hatcher's Three Viewings. It's an homage to Edgar Allen Poe's famous horror story "The Telltale Heart," in which the protagonist murders an old man, then is driven to madness because he cannot stop the steady muffled beating of his victim's heart from sounding in his ears. The horror in "Tell-Tale" is muted and gentle, however. Emil, a funeral director, muses about the real-estate agent he loved in secret for many years. True to the title, that still-beating heart does indeed turn up, in a completely unexpected way. The second speaker, in "The Thief of Tears," is Mac, a raunchy, tough-talking woman who makes a living stealing jewelry from corpses. Finally, in "Thirteen Things About Ed Carpolotti," we meet a dignified middle-class widow who learns after her husband has died that he was in thick with the Mafia, cheated many people and left her with more than a million dollars' worth of debt. The writing in this third piece is more satiric and less overtly emotional than in the other two monologues, but the overall script is mordantly witty, entertaining without being shallow — and director Terry Dodd does it justice. Presented by Crossroads at Five Points Theater through August 4, 303-832-0929, www.denvercrossroads.com. Reviewed July 19.
Too Old to Be Loud. Heritage Square is unlike any other dinner theater in the state — and possibly the nation. The facility itself debuted in the 1950s as Magic Mountain, a Disneyesque theme park with whimsical buildings based on Colorado architectural styles. In 1970, it was bought by the Woodmoor Corporation and reincarnated as Heritage Square; soon after, G. William Oakley opened the Heritage Square Opera House, which featured wickedly silly — yet oddly clever — melodramas. Current director T.J. Mullin took over in 1986 and shifted both the name and the focus, alternating hopped-up versions of classic stories with shows that are pretty much a medley of songs. Too Old to Be Loud is the sixth in a series based on an annual reunion in the Boylan High School gym, a thin plot line that serves as the excuse for this talented ensemble to offer some great rock and roll, hilarious sendups of pop stars and a rendition of the Beatles' "Yesterday," during which Mullin gets to reveal his surprisingly melodious tenor. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through October 14, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800. www.hsmusichall.com. Reviewed July 12.
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