Henry VIII. Shakespeare's Henry VIII is not the licentious, swollen-bellied, wife-dispatching monster we know from Hollywood. When we meet this Henry, he's relatively young, under the thumb of the scheming Cardinal Wolsey, and still consorting with his first wife, Katharine of Aragon. As the action proceeds, he'll divorce Katharine for Anne Bullen (Boleyn), learn to see through Wolsey's wiles, and gather the confidence, power and cruelty that characterized the real-life Henry's reign. This play, which scholars believe is the result of a collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher, doesn't fit easily into the categories to which we usually assign Shakespeare's works, and it's rarely performed. Which is a good thing, judging from this production, one of the most misconceived I've seen in ages. The set design is rudimentary, neither eye-pleasing nor evocative, and the costumes are really troubling. Their materials look cheap; the lines are ghastly. Director James Symons has peopled the stage with many actors who seem unready for prime time, and some of these actors perform pivotal roles. Often the scenes play like parodies of Shakespeare, with actors gabbling incomprehensibly at each other, never seeming to consider the meaning of the words flying out of their mouths. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 12, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, www.coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 24.
Love's Labour's Lost. Director Gavin Cameron-Webb has set this production in a summer house in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1917, just before America's entrance into the First World War. The proceedings open with a long mime sequence, showing the flirtatious Jaquenetta being courted by her two swains — the absurd Don Armado (here a Cuban rather than a Spaniard) and the clownish gardener, Costard — and thoroughly enjoying their attention. The plot involves four wealthy young students who swear to retire for three years to a life of study, abstinence and contemplation. Barely have their oaths been spoken than the Countess of France enters on a financial mission with her retinue of beautiful young women — and love is in the air. The humor is very much of its time, with punning and allusions that would have had Shakespeare's audiences howling with laughter but are pretty much incomprehensible now. Still, the production does a good job of keeping things lively and funny. Much of its lift and energy comes from Geoffrey Kent as Dull, Stephen Weitz as Costard, and Seth Maisel, who plunges into the role of Moth with a cheeky, crazed, all-stops-out physicality. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 15, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, www.coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 10.
Macbeth. As the action begins, Macbeth accidentally kills a young boy on the battlefield; he cradles the lifeless body and shrieks with grief. Almost simultaneously, we hear a piercing scream, and Lady Macbeth flies down the castle steps carrying a swaddled dead baby, which she fondles dementedly, then leaves on a ledge. As the play progresses, we realize that her grief for the loss of this child is what drives her lust for power. This Lady Macbeth is no cold-blooded viper, but a half-mad harridan who melts long before the famous sleepwalking scene. The insistent focus on children and the father-son bond strengthens the play's themes of succession and underlines the Macbeths' barrenness and their drive to exterminate the future. This is not a revelatory Macbeth that will stir your imagination or trouble your dreams, but it's clear, solid and often intelligent. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 16, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, www.coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 3.
West Side Story. Back in the '50s, the idea of updating Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet — setting it on the mean streets of New York and having gang members substitute for the battling Montagues and Capulets — was daring and revelatory. At the time, West Side Story's liberal humanism — why couldn't these kids recognize that the ills that drove them crazy were social and structural and just learn to get along? — would have been widely seen as progressive rather than hopelessly naive. And while today the script, with its ancient slang, is unquestionably dated, the issues it explores are still very much with us: violence, xenophobia, poverty, hopelessness, and the plight of our country's immigrants, who are simultaneously used for cheap labor and reviled as the cause of unemployment and economic failure. Bernstein's score holds up, too, transforming what might have been just a fifty-year-old artifact into a genuine work of art. Gregory Turay, who plays Tony, has a melting, expressive tenor, and Sarah Jane McMahon's rich soprano moved me to tears on Maria's "I Have a Love." Jerome Robbins's choreography, re-created by Daniel Pelzig as faithfully as possible given the small stage he had to work with, still sometimes zings. But though the opening dance number is appropriately explosive, these dancers just don't come across as gangbangers. The acting throughout is at best prosaic, and at worst purely awful — with the notable exception of Mark Rubald, who owns the stage every time he strolls onto it as the corrupt cop. And the fake Puerto Rican accents of all the Sharks simply set your teeth on edge. Presented by Central City Opera through August 9, Central City Opera House, 303-292-6700, www.centralcityopera.org. Reviewed July 10.
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The Will Rogers Follies. This musical, which premiered in 1991, gives us Will Rogers's life in a series of Ziegfeld-style acts, supposedly being performed in the present time: over-the-top musical numbers featuring lots of leggy showgirls, monologues and family scenes, all reshuffled and redirected at will by the intrusive voice of an unseen Florenz Ziegfeld. The format allows the action to go backward and forward in time, and the characters to comment on their actions for the audience even while performing them. In a bit of foreshadowing, aviator Wiley Post sits in the audience, rising periodically from his seat to invite Rogers to take a trip with him. (In 1935, Rogers joined Post for an attempted flight around the world; their plane crashed in Alaska, and both died.) The songs in The Will Rogers Follies aren't really that memorable, but the numbers are toe-tapping, energetic parodies of Ziegfeld's style, and often very funny. A.K. Klimpke gives a low-key, affable performance in the title role. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through August 31, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed June 12.