Annie. Boulder's Dinner Theatre is at the top of its form; it has to be. How else could the company make Annie — its mandatory summer family show — anything but a smirking sentimental bore? As everyone knows by now, the story of Annie concerns a little red-haired girl's rough life at an orphanage run by the vicious Miss Hannigan. Annie gets away; adopts stray-dog Sandy; is invited into the mansion of Daddy Warbucks, a war profiteer with a heart of gold; helps FDR conceive of the New Deal (by singing to him about "Tomorrow"); rescues her fellow orphans; and is happily adopted by Warbucks, who — no doubt thanks in part to Annie's heart-melting qualities — has begun to realize his feelings for his comely secretary, Grace. The acting at BDT is uniformly appealing, and as the proceedings rollick along, you start to notice how satisfying all the production values are, from Neal Dunfee's sweet, slick orchestra to Alicia Dunfee's choreography; from Linda Morken's meticulous costumes to Amy Campion's clever, three-turnstile set, on which we first see the city skyline, and then, as the turnstiles revolve, a group of homeless people sharing food in a Hooverville, Miss Hannigan's study, a street scene, and Daddy Warbucks's opulent mansion with its platoon of happily singing servants. The adult acting is uniformly fine, and the production also features a big, wambling beauty of a labradoodle and lots of kids — very cute kids, but not cute in that annoyingly self-conscious Hollywood way. Kids so full of wiggling, bumptious energy that you have to wonder just how director Scott Beyette managed to focus it into the joyous yet highly disciplined performances they all put out. The pleasures of this production take you to that silly, giggling, helium-filled and multi-colored place that we all need to visit more often. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 5, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed June 25.
Die! Mommie Die! It's been forever since we've had really good, outrageous, dirty-minded, over-the-top camp in Denver, so Die! Mommie Die! is a particular delight. Charles Busch's play is a spoof of such 1960s Gothic horror movies as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. The heroine, Angela Arden, is an aging movie star of the Joan Crawford/Bette Davis type. The wife of idealistic movie director Sol Sussman, whose motto is "Make it big, give it class and leave 'em with a message," Angela's reduced to a life of shopping, bitchery and playing with her hugely well-endowed boy toy, Tony. Meanwhile, daughter Edith adores Sol in a squirmingly faux-innocent and highly sexual way, and cross-dressing son Lance has gone completely bonkers. There's also a corn-fritter-making, Bible-quoting maid, Bootsie Carp. With a crew like this, it's only natural that Angela should start entertaining ideas of murder. And then, thanks to plot turns involving poison, constipation and suppositories, LSD and a long-dead jealous sister, we find out that she isn't who she seems to be. Nick Sugar's production is slick, swift and clean. But it's Chris Whyde's performance as Angela that makes the entire evening so satisfying, a performance that functions more as an informed and loving homage than a crude sendup: This is an impersonation Crawford herself might have liked. Whyde is beautifully matched by Robert Wells as Sol Sussman; though the character is every bit as scheming and murderous as his wife, Wells also exudes a relaxed, lived-in humor that's appealing to watch and provides an excellent foil for everyone else's histrionics. There's no important social commentary here, no subtext to ponder. But if you're in the mood for a rip-roaring good time, this is the show to see. Presented by the Avenue Theater through August 29, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed August 13.
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Girls Only. The trouble with Girls Only, a two-woman evening of conversation, skits, singing, improvisation and audience participation, is that it's so relentlessly nice. Creator-performers Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein have worked together for many years; at some point, they read their early diaries to each other and were transfixed by the similarities and differences they found in them, as well as the insights they gained into their own psyches and the travails of puberty. This theater piece was developed from that material — but not all of that material. "I purposely don't read every diary entry in the show, because it turns out I was kind of mean, and I don't want to be mean," Klein told an interviewer. But mean is funny, and when you cut it out entirely, what do you have to joke about? Girly pink bedrooms, purses, bras, skinny models in glossy magazines. Every time they tell a story with the tiniest bite to it, Gehring and Klein — both talented and appealing stage performers — move instantly to reassure us that they don't mean it. At one point Klein relates an interesting tale about how she came to possess the badly taxidermied body of an electrocuted squirrel as a child; the minute she's completed this funny, freaky moment in an otherwise highly predictable evening, she gives a pouty, don't-get-me-wrong grin and sweetly caresses the squirrel's head. There's enough good material here for a tight, funny, one-hour-long show, but this one stretches on and on, as if Klein and Gehring had been determined to throw every single joke and piece of shtick that occurred to them in the script. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through August, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18.