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.
Dixie's Tupperware Party. Dixie is a booze- and sex-addicted, trash-talking, child-neglecting ex-con from Alabama who holds Tupperware parties in her trailer, and she's invited you to this one. Dixie's Tupperware Party at the Galleria really is a Tupperware party — you get a name tag and raffle number when you come in, and there are pens and catalogues on all the tables. Dixie, your hostess, greets you in high white heels and a crotch-skimming skirt, earrings swinging, red hair piled high. Collapsible bowls, punch and party setups, plastic jugs and ribbed mugs (uh-huh) gleam in shades of lime, blue, orange and purple on a table behind her; by the time she's through, you won't be able to look at a plastic storage container without giggling. Just the words "collapsible bowl" will set you off. Dixie is also Kris Andersson, an actor who realized he could make an actual living selling Tupperware and began hosting parties. As he worked, the character of Dixie developed. Andersson brought his show to New York's Fringe Festival in 2004, and it caught fire from there. This production is seriously dirty, and it's also one terrific evening. Dixie is a great character: She doesn't give an inch, but she's as appealing as she is wicked. And Andersson not only loves Dixie, but he loves Tupperware, too — and he's not being snarky about it. So no matter how much Dixie screws up her spiel or how many lewd jokes she makes about the uses to which you can put "the best plastic crap on the planet," there's a reverential quality to the way she fondles the goods that makes you actually want to buy them. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through January 2, Garner Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed December 9.
Faithful. The opening scene is intriguing: a woman tied to a chair, a mobster with a gun preparing to finish her off. The tension is ready-made, and the dialogue comically and continually upends our expectations. The woman, Margaret, is feisty, scoffing at the very idea of a Mafia hit man with a name as stereotypical as Tony, and telling him she was suicidal to begin with and welcomes the idea of being done in — though she's less keen on the rape-murder scenario her husband, Jack, has set up. Tony's an insecure doofus, so it's not too hard for this quick-witted woman to con him, but he also has enough insight to set her back on her heels now and then. There's a lot in this first act that's funny, but there are also things that don't add up, and with the entrance of Jack in the second half, the play falls apart. We've admired the cunning, tough-minded Margaret of act one, but act-two Margaret is presented primarily as a victim and is far less interesting. After a while, you feel as if you've fallen into an episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Eventually Tony comes back, and confusion ensues as he tries to figure out who he should kill — but by this time the comedy's pretty much drained out of the evening, with little in the way of pathos or insight to take its place. The show remains mildly entertaining, but there's no real revelation, and what you get in the end is less anti-climactic than a weak-kneed petering out. Presented by the Edge Theatre Company through August 28, 9797 West Colfax Avenue, Lakewood, 303-232-0363, www.theedgetheatre.com. Reviewed August 18.
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.
A Touch of Spring. A Touch of Spring, Samuel Taylor's rarely performed 1968 comedy, has one foot in the '50s (it's set in 1959) and another in the late '60s, that era of questioning and boundary-pushing. It starts out as a charming romantic comedy, but after a brief, exhilarating fling with genuine iconoclasm, it falls back into conventionality, with a conclusion that's a little wicked — at least for the time — but also deeply disappointing. We first encounter Sandy and Diana Claiborne in an expensive hotel in Rome. He's a business tycoon, she's high society, and they're behaving like the typical ugly Americans abroad. They're in town to collect the corpse of Sandy's father, who died in a car accident, and then hurry back home. But no sooner has impatient Diana huffed back to the States than Alison, a young Englishwoman, appears with an errand similar to Sandy's. Her mother died in the same car accident as his father, and Sandy is the only one who takes more than a second to figure out just what this means. The one truly original character in the play is Baldassare Pantaleone, or Baldo, a fast-talking young Italian operator who can fix balky appliances, blow through the bureaucracy and reveal the sensual joys of Italy to both Sandy and Alison. But Baldo leaves the stage halfway through the action, sticking us with the lovers and dialogue so insipid that it's impossible to care very much how this affair turns out. As Baldo, Michael Bouchard runs off with the evening. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through August 28, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed July 28.
Uncle Vanya. Most audiences these days simply don't know what to make of Chekhov: all those talky Russians airing their deepest desires and despairs, periodically insulting each other, occasionally bursting through with declarations of unrequited love. Nor do we really understand Chekhov's times. Our fondness for nature is tempered by the knowledge that the nearest pizza slice is only a car ride away — a perspective that in no way clues us into the brutal isolation of rural Russia in the late nineteenth century. Like most of Chekhov's dramas, Uncle Vanya has little overt action and no straightforward plot line — just talk, humans bumping up against each other, small psychological revelations. Although Chekhov called his plays comedies, the overall tone in most productions of his plays is of subdued and baffled tragedy. Ed Baierlein has produced the first comic Vanya I've ever seen, and while a few scenes come dangerously close to farcical, overall the tone works. At Vanya's house, the dreary daily tasks are done by Vanya's niece Sonya and the old nurse, Marina. The household rhythms are disrupted by the arrival of Vanya's self-important art-professor brother, Alexandr — Sonya's father — and Alexandr's beautiful and much younger wife, Yelena. Astrov is the perennial outsider, a doctor who has come to believe that all his healing work is useless. Vanya is in love with Yelena, who's tired of her hypochondriacal husband, and so is the good doctor Astro — for whom Sonya has been yearning for many years. Led by some very strong performances, the cast makes these people both sad and silly, saving them from absolute silliness with rueful self-awareness and a kind of bitter humor. This Vanya is a strong reminder of why this thirty-year-old company remains a formidable theatrical force. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through August 28, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed August 4.
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