Garage Sale Loud: This Is It. Almost every summer, the folks at Heritage Square stage what is essentially a musical review with a thin sustaining plot line and the word "loud" in the title. The conceit is that T.J. Mullin and Annie Dwyer are siblings, and they're reliving their youth: teenage band rehearsals, high-school reunions. This time, their mom is moving into a retirement home, and they're trying to sell off all the stuff left in the garage. They're joined by Rory Pierce, who says he bought the house over the Internet; Alex Crawford, who has apparently just wandered by; and the family's onetime lawn boy, Charlie Schmidt, wearing the same tiny shorts he must have worn at fifteen. It only takes a stray phrase or turn in the action for everyone to burst into song: "Blowin' in the Wind," "Blue Moon," "Help," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "I Get Around" — a promiscuous mishmash of hits from various decades, apparently picked because the performers happen to like them. Mullin does a hilarious impression of Mick Jagger singing "Jumping Jack Flash"; Crawford rocks on James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)"; and Pierce's tongue gets a heavy workout as he impersonates Kiss. The most mind-blowing number is Beyoncé's "Single Ladies," with Pierce, Mullin and Schmidt as a leotard-clad chorus. Heritage Square has been hit hard by the economic downturn, and it's imperative that it attract new fans. So the troupe is mulling ways to convince Denverites that Golden really isn't so far away and wondering how to attract younger viewers without losing the essence of what they do —which, night after night, is to create community and share laughter. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through September 5, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800, www.hsmusichall.com. Reviewed June 17.
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Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This show is an hour and a half of speech and rock songs woven together so seamlessly that later, looking back, you're not exactly sure what you heard spoken and what sung. The framework is provided by "The Origin of Love," a song that evokes Plato's vision of how sexual congress began. Once the world was filled with twinned creatures, both parts male, both female and androgynous, but they were severed by Zeus. Now, bloodied and butchered, these half-creatures search the world for their lost partners. Hedwig began as Hansel, born in East Berlin, a lost boy who gave blow jobs to GIs for candy and attention. When a soldier named Luther wanted to marry him and bring him to the United States, Hansel's mother lent the boy her name and passport and arranged for a sex-change operation. But the operation was botched, and Hansel, now Hedwig, was left with an inch-long stub, neither fully male nor fully female. A year later, Luther left her. Now she performs at the Avenue Theater, backed by her band, the Angry Inch, and Yitzak, the ambiguously sexed person she refers to as her husband, whom she met in Serbia while performing under the name Crystal Nacht. A reference to the Berlin Wall is in some ways a fairly straightforward metaphor for Hedwig's plight — she straddles countries and realities as well as gender. But, like the mention of Kristallnacht, it's more than that; it's a reminder of the casual brutality of a world where many children struggle for physical and emotional survival, begging, selling themselves, killing — whatever it takes. The music, by Stephen Trask, is varied and exhilarating, the dialogue dark, smart and funny, and the Avenue production purely terrific. But it's Nick Sugar who makes this performance one you'd be an idiot to miss. The role of Hedwig is one he was born to play, allowing not only irony, satire, sexiness and self-possession, but the kind of emotion for which an actor reaches into the depths of his being. Presented by the Avenue Theater through August 7, 417 East 17th Avenue, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed July 1.
King Lear. Director Lynne Collins chose to set her King Lear in the late-nineteenth-century American West. This doesn't add much to the theme or story, but it does fit the persona and acting style of John Hutton, who makes a fine, easy-talking, loose-limbed but imperious cattle king. And there's so much to the script — so much poetry, wisdom, humanity — that every new production yields unanticipated insights. One of the things Hutton brings to the party is humor: His Lear is often funny, possessed of the kind of wry, humorous wisdom we definitely associate with the frontier. The unexpectedness of Hutton's readings sparks many of Lear's scenes to vivid life. But Hutton does not bring the tragic heft to the role that it requires, particularly in the later scenes; the pacing of much of the production is off, too. There are treasures in this Lear, but they don't quite outweigh the missteps. Produced by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 8, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, www.coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 15.
Peter Pan. The folks at Boulder's Dinner Theatre approach Peter Pan with such imagination, intelligence, respect and — above all — giddy exuberance that you can't help enjoying yourself. Little boys are sure to love Captain Hook and the ferocious crocodile with the clock ticking away inside him. And how could any little girl resist the idea of flying off into the night in search of adventure with a white-nightgowned Wendy, and being so loved and needed by the Lost Boys? Not to mention Nana, the fluffy white dog who serves as the children's caretaker. The only drawback is the depiction of Native Americans, who are shown as pure 1950s Disney figures, wearing long black wigs and fringed costumes, drumming, stomping, chanting and singing a ghastly song called "Ugh-a-Wug." Still, there are loads of good things about the production, and J.M. Barrie's words still cast a spell. Director Scott Beyette and his actors even respect the story's darker overtones: Captain Hook may be a pussycat and the battles staged to be comic, but the story's psychological ambiguities seep through. As played by Joanie Brosseau-Beyette, Peter Pan is a tough little customer who can wreak havoc if he wants, and who has very little loyalty or conscience. This is offset by Brosseau-Beyette's cheekiness and charm, as well as her terrific singing voice. Best of all is the flying. It doesn't matter that you know it's coming; it doesn't matter that you can see the lines attached to the actors' backs. When Peter Pan rises into the air and Wendy, John and Michael follow — startled, kicking and laughing — it's pure magic. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 4, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdunnertheatre.com. Reviewed June 3.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile. The premise of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, an entirely ahistorical play by Steve Martin, is that Picasso and Einstein met at an artists' hangout in Montmartre in 1904; the result is a meditation on the nature of creativity and the role of science and art in the twentieth century, complete with silly jokes, clever jokes, flashes of erudition and periodic, almost-profound insights. The lobby of the Barth Hotel, built in 1881 and renovated in 1930, is the perfect setting, adding a fascinating patina that speaks both of time passing and of timelessness. The Einstein we meet is a very young man who has inklings of his own genius, but no assurance of it; the Special Theory of Relativity will not be published for another year. Picasso is already somewhat recognized, though hardly world-famous, full of ego and appetite. The other characters include Freddy, the owner of the Lapin Agile, and his attractive wife, Germaine; Gaston, a regular customer with a weak bladder; Sagot, Picasso's agent; Schmendiman, an idiot entrepreneur from the future, irresistibly reminiscent of the kind of mind that gave us inspirational seminars and Crocs; and a second visitor from the future, who turns out to be one of the play's most interesting surprises. The production is well-paced, well-acted and thoughtfully directed. A lovely surprise is ZZ Moore, making her Denver debut as a Suzanne so poised, graceful and intelligent that you can't take your eyes off her. Picasso at the Lapin Agile is being mounted as a fundraiser for Senior Housing Options, so buying a ticket is a good deed — but it's also your entree to a delightful time. Presented through August 14 at the Barth Hotel, 1410 17th Street, 303-595-4464, www/seniorhousingoptions.org. Reviewed July 15.