Cats. There's not much of a plot to Cats. You meet the Jellicles, with their cheerful faces and bright black eyes, who dance "under the light of the Jellicle moon"; the Ming-vase-smashing cat burglars, Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer; fat, elegant, gentleman's club-haunting Bustopher Jones; and contrary-minded Rum Tum Tugger. The show's emotional core resides with battered street cat Grizabella — once a beauty, now doddering and shunned by the others. When we're told at the beginning by wise Old Deuteronomy that tonight one of all the cats will be chosen to ascend to the Heaviside Layer — whatever that is — there's not a lot of suspense about who it will be. Along the way, you get insight into the naming of cats (turns out every cat needs three names), and also how to address a cat: "Before a Cat will condescend/To treat you as a trusted friend/Some little token of esteem/Is needed like a dish of cream." And the music and lyrics are as delicious as a saucer of cream, of course. This is Boulder's Dinner Theatre's second go at Cats, and though it's very like the 2004 production, it's been strengthened in a lot of small ways that make a very big difference. Perhaps most important, the cast features a few notable new dance talents, and there's something to catch and hold your attention at every moment as you confront a moving frieze of kitties cavorting, hissing, twitching and cleaning their own and each others' faces. The BDT's entire cast and crew approach this production with so much energy and enthusiasm that they've made it new again. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 24, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed June 2.
The Divine Sister. The Divine Sister features some of Denver's most talented actors, reliable creators of deep and memorable characters in artistically ambitious venues — and all of them having the time of their lives here, hamming, capering and slamming home the cheesiest jokes imaginable. The insanely over-the-top script is by Charles Busch, and it's a tribute to nun and convent movies, everything from Agnes of God to Doubt, with a dash of The Da Vinci Code thrown in for good measure. The plot concerns a Mother Superior trying to keep her convent financially afloat while dealing with Agnes, a hysterically religious young postulant; Sister Acacius, the perpetually horny sports coach; a filmmaker who wants to record Agnes's ecstasies; and Sister Walburga, a mysterious nun from Germany. Mother Superior approaches Mrs. Levinson, a rich Jewish widow who happens to be an atheist, in search of a donation and, in the course of her unsuccessful solicitation, begins a chain of discoveries about her own life. The dialogue is full of spot-on gags: Agnes sees a saint's face in a pair of urine-stained BVDs; Mother Superior is writing a book called The Middle Ages: So Bad?; and there's talk of a little-known Catholic sect based on the doctrine of Jesus's neglected sister, the Divine Joyce. All of the performers work well together as an ensemble — kept, if not in check, then at least in a consistent comic universe by Nick Sugar's tight, clean direction. Each line of dialogue gets its due, each gag is skillfully timed and encapsulated. Add the ridiculous costumes of Kevin Copenhaver (Sister Walburga's mighty headdress is a highlight, but there's strong competition from Mrs. Levinson's ghastly pantsuit) and the funky, cozy, edge-of-nasty charm of the Avenue Theater, and you've got yourself a party. Presented by the Avenue Theater through July 30, 417 East 17th Avenue, 303-321-5925, www.avenuetheater.com. Reviewed June 23.
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In Perfect Harmony. Like all of Heritage Square's summer musicals, this one has almost no plot. The characters are supposed to be singers who formed their own group, the Dysfunctional Family, after aging out of the youth-oriented Up With People. They start out pretty dorky, with Rory Pierce in horn-rimmed spectacles, Johnette Toye sporting an insanely determined smile, and everyone wearing neat, good-kid outfits: navy dresses and shirts, neatly pressed slacks. But they're trying to evolve and get hipper, so they try all kinds of styles and genres: rock, country, great old musicals, newer musicals, pretty ballads, television theme songs (including South Park), and their patented imitation of the Mamas and the Papas, with Annie Dwyer in a fat suit as Mama Cass, and the voices harmonizing beautifully on "Monday, Monday." The oldest number, "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?," movingly sung by T.J. Mullin, seems utterly contemporary these days, as we teeter on the edge of what may be another Depression. I'd take the country song "Atheists Don't Got No Music" as an insult, except that the lyrics do allow us blues and rock and roll. Mullin and Dwyer sing a lovely folkie tune called "When You're Next to Me," from A Mighty Wind, and Alex Crawford's deep baritone does full justice to "Old Man River." But the focus is all on the excellent singing and playing, the precision of the group numbers, and choreography that sometimes approaches real elegance — not on shtick. You get the sense that the troupe is trying to do things a little differently, perhaps appeal to a bigger audience. So while the dialogue is still cornball, you don't get the guys' usual hilarious cross-dressing routine — I missed that glimpse of Pierce's shapely legs — and Dwyer doesn't race into the audience to assault bald men with sticky kisses. There are also fewer moments of jaw-dropping, I-can't-believe-I-saw-that insanity. I missed those, too. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through September 4, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800, www.hsmusichall.com. Reviewed June 16.