Billy Elliot the Musical. The story of Billy Elliot is deeply appealing: During the 1980s, as Maggie Thatcher wars with the powerful coal-mining union as part of her campaign to destroy British labor, an eleven-year-old miner's son stumbles into a ballet class and discovers an unlikely love of dance. Naturally, this appalls his tough brother and widowed father, but he struggles on. Ballet becomes a metaphor for transcendence and personal freedom. And although their cause is hopeless and their community doomed, the boy's passion to some small extent changes those around him, eliciting an odd tenderness from these work- and poverty-hardened men. The 2000 movie, directed by Stephen Daldry, was a little sentimental, and the approach to ballet didn't ring true — but this musical feels even more dishonest. If you decide to use ballet as a fulcrum for action, then give us some sense of what's transcendent about the art form. Through a long evening that features every Broadway dance cliché in the book, the only number that really communicates the joy of dance is "Born to Boogie," in which young Billy capers with his ballet teacher and her laconic pianist comes unexpectedly forward to reveal a few choice moves of his own. And the single scene that comes close to expressing the beauty of ballet is a duet danced by young Billy and his adult self to the music of Swan Lake. But most of the choreography is cheesy. The script is more disjointed and sentimental even than that of the movie — as well as a lot, lot longer. And the insipid, ponderously obvious Elton John score doesn't help a bit. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through June 5, Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed May 19.
Five Course Love. This production consists of five musical scenes set in five different restaurants, each one a broad parody in which author Gregg Coffin spoofs stereotypes while shamelessly using and abusing them. There's a barbecue place featuring country/Western music; an Italian restaurant where a mob wife is cheating — very operatically — on her husband; a cozy German restaurant intended as a place of refuge for the Eleanor Rigbys of the world that ends up hosting a dominatrix and her men; a Mexican cantina where a sweet maiden must decide between the waiter's true love and the lustful excitement offered by an outlaw; and, finally, a standard '50s diner with a doo-wop ambience and a kindly owner called Pop. Three actors whip through all the roles, donning and doffing costumes and assuming jokey accents. It's all really silly — but some of the songs are musically witty (and very well played by musical director Troy Schuh and his musicians) and some downright balls-out daft. Others are really very lovely: the ballad about refuge from the rain sung by the German waiter, for example, and the love song "Blue Flame." Many of the best numbers in Five Course Love occur in the last couple of acts, and it's also only at the end that you learn there's a dramatic reason for a lot of hokeyness. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through June 19, Garner Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-8934100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 28.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Denver theater audiences are famous for the ease with which they award standing ovations — but Hedwig and the Angry Inch, now reprised at the Avenue Theater, deserved the cheer it got last summer. Born Hansel and desperate to escape Communist East Berlin, Hedwig endures a sex-change operation so that she can marry an American G.I. Long ago abandoned by the G.I, yearning for her beloved Tommy Gnosis — a rock star who owes his success to her songs — she now tours various sleazy dives, wearing a ghastly blond wig with huge soup-can curls on top. Accompanied by her ambiguously sexed husband, Yitzak, and her band, the Angry Inch, she ruminates in song and monologue about the nature of love, still trying to figure out just who she is and where she belongs while performing a slew of fantastic numbers: "The Origin of Love," "Wig in a Box," "Wicked Little Town." Not only are the songs great in this raucous, touching, rock-concert-cum-theater piece, but so are the musicians and actors, particularly Amanda Earls as Yitzak and Nick Sugar's balls-out performance as he goes through his personal cathartic transformation every night from Hansel to Hedwig. The production is an amazing amount of fun, despite touching on issues of identity at the most profound level. Presented at the Avenue Theater through May 29, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed July 1, 2010.
Indiscretions. Jean Cocteau — famed writer, director, designer and filmmaker — supposedly wrote Indiscretions
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in 1938, during eight opium-hazed days. The central figure is Yvonne, an irrational, suicidal, diabetic woman who terrorizes her husband, George, and completely dominates and infantilizes Michael, her twenty-year-old son. Yvonne's sister Leo lives with the family; she is nursing her own secret: a frustrated, decades-long love for George. The spur to the play's action is Michael's confession that he finally has a girlfriend, a bookbinder named Madeleine. The news sends Yvonne into a predictable frenzy, and, hoping to appease her, George — who has a secret of his own — and Leo figure out a scheme to torpedo the young couple's relationship. Leo eventually has a change of heart; what she stands to gain from it becomes apparent toward the play's end. Director Ed Baierlein's program notes say his production "highlights the satire of bourgeois values and Jerry Springer-like melodramatic intrigues inherent in the script," but that seems self-contradictory. The people we're seeing on stage aren't bourgeois at all; like Springer's people, they're trashy, and they have broad, undefined accents that swing somewhere between the American South and the West. The acting style is stagey and presentational, and though the laughs come easy in this lively production, the overall experience is puzzling and empty. Presented by Germinal Stage through June 12, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed May 12.
Caryl Churchill is not a playwright who repeats herself. She doesn't have an immediately identifiable writing style, nor does she revert to certain kinds of characters or situations. Her work tends to be politically aware and highly original, and each play is distinctly different. A Number, written in 2002, when the world was agog with news that a sheep called Dolly had been cloned, is short, spare and evocative, a quiet but anguished musing on the topics of cloning, identity and nature versus nurture. The plot follows a father, Salter, who has had one of his sons copied, and who discovers that an unscrupulous scientist used his genetic material to create several more clones. As the action begins, he's in conversation with the original clone, Bernard — the man he considers his real son — and it becomes evident that Bernard's understanding of the way he came into being is false. He has always been told that Salter wanted to reproduce a first baby who died. But it turns out that son number one — also Bernard — is very much alive, and he appears in the flesh to confront his father in the second scene. So as he considers legal action against the errant scientist, Salter ponders his own motivations: Were they to create a perfect human being, or to erase his own shortcomings as a parent? Bernard number one is insecure and afraid — not least of Bernard two, who is twisted and homicidal. And then appears clone son number three, who turns out to be a completely different kettle of fish. Much of the discussion about cloning over the past decade has been predictable, with experts noting that science and technology have bestowed capabilities that existing legal and ethical structures just aren't equipped to deal with. But what still resonates is Churchill's essential question, the one most of us ponder when we're alone: Who am I, and what does it mean to be me? Presented by Curious Theatre Company through June 17, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed May 19.
Rose Colored Glass. Rose Fleishman, a Jewish refugee from Austria, runs a delicatessen in Chicago, right across the alley from a pub owned by Lady O'Riley, a dour Irish widow. Separated by centuries of history, culture and religion, the two women are coldly formal toward each other, but Lady's irrepressible granddaughter, Peg, won't have it. She's forever shuttling between the eateries, chatting, asking questions, thinking up stratagems, and slowly, reluctantly, the women begin speaking to each other. The relationship deepens as Lady learns more about Rose's predicament. It's 1938, and through the increasingly unreliable news channels from Europe, Rose finds out that her sister Sabena has disappeared from Vienna and is either dead or in hiding, and that her eleven-year-old nephew, Abraham, has fled to England. She and Lady join forces to bring the child to America. This is a gentle, nostalgic piece that would make a charming essay, short story or one-act, but there's not enough action to animate a full-length play. The tone is far-reaching and humanistic, however, and important ideas are aired: humankind's provincialism, for example, and the way we tend to ignore far-away tragedies unless there's a specific story and name attached to them. There are also salutary reminders of America's shameful reluctance to take in Jewish refugees during World War II, the bureaucracy and anti-Semitism that saw thousands of professionals, workers and people with prosperous relatives in the United States turned away on the grounds that they might become a public burden. The play also does a good job of re-creating the war as seen from the United States; along with the characters, we attempt to tease out the words from a radio's crackling static and contemplate the huge importance of papers — birth certificates, visas — that can mean the difference between life and death. But the script itself is fairly static. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through June 19, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed May 12.