The Drowsy Chaperone. The role of the Man in the Chair is the spine for The Drowsy Chaperone, and the primary reason that this lighthearted, inconsequential and very silly show is so much fun to watch: Without him, it would just float off into the ether. But with him, we're invited in on the joke, and his trenchant observations provide a sometimes tartly refreshing frame. This man is middle-aged, gay and slightly melancholy. He adores 1920s musicals, and to cheer himself up — and explain his passion to us, the audience — he decides to play a disc of a purely fictive show called The Drowsy Chaperone. And that's when everything changes: platforms swivel, walls move, doors open onto unexpected places, and a swarm of hyper-energetic actors invades his nondescript apartment. A sendup of the shows the Man loves, Chaperone includes big, sparkling numbers; lots of tapping and singing; moronic plot twists; vaudeville routines; puns; a pretty ingénue; a handsome leading man; a vampy, drunken chaperone; a clownish, self-infatuated Italian; and a couple of Mafia guys who are more ridiculous than menacing (in fact, they're disguised as pastry chefs). There are also a couple of digs at the provincialism and unconscious racism of early musicals. Boulder's Dinner Theatre has mounted a wonderful production of the show, with a very strong cast. Brian Norber gives the Man a weary intelligence, pitching the role precisely between cynicism and wonder. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through May 13, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed March 15.
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Master Class. The words "diva" and "legendary" could have been coined to describe Maria Callas, one of those fiery, imperial, larger-than-life talents who defines her art form for a generation. Callas's life provided an interesting mix of high-minded dedication and salacious gossip for biographers to chew over. Having endured the privations of war and poverty, she sang her way to the heights and performed in the world's great opera houses. She eventually left her first husband for Aristotle Onassis, one of the richest and piggiest men in the world. From 1971 to 1972, Callas taught a series of master classes at Juilliard, and playwright Terrence McNally has reimagined one of those classes for Master Class. In the play, Callas is a dominating bully, with vicious things to say about rivals like Joan Sutherland. But she is also fascinating and intelligent. Her comments on her students' technique are incisive, and she is able to respond with generosity to genuine talent. Director Robert Kramer scored a coup when he cast local mezzo soprano Marcia Ragonetti as Callas. This is a woman who knows the meaning of the word "diva," and one of the evening's greatest pleasures is watching her demonstrate for a student just how to make an entrance. When she coaches, the words may be McNally's, but you can tell Ragonetti knows what she's talking about. One of the wonderful things about this Miners Alley production is that it's such an intimate space. When Callas talks to the audience, she's talking to you. And when the students sing, the only possible response is sheer wonder at the fact that the human throat can produce such a glorious sound. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through April 1, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed March 1.
Southern Baptist Sissies. As Southern Baptist Sissies begins, a preacher is delivering a sermon while a young man named Mark, unheard by the preacher, comments on it: "What a crock of shit," he exclaims. Having silenced the preacher, who is appearing only in his memory, he tells the story of four choir members — himself included — who grew up gay in a fire-and-brimstone religious community: Benny, who never took religion seriously and became a flamboyant drag queen; Andrew, desperately fighting his own urges as he continued to seek compassion and acceptance within the church; TJ, with whom Mark had his first sexual encounter, but who recoiled from gay love to marry a woman and attend Baylor, a Christian university; and Mark himself, bitter and estranged, and clearly a stand-in for author Del Shores. The structure is pretty straightforward: You follow the four as they mature from boys to young men. The action is broken up by comic scenes set in a piano bar featuring an aging gay man called Peanut and Odette, a cocktail waitress. Under the direction of Steven Tangedal, the tech is low-key and unpretentious and the acting uneven. But the primary problem is the script, which is didactic and far too long. There's no subtlety to Shores's script, nothing ingenious or surprising. Growing up gay is hell in many parts of the United States, but the ponderous self-righteousness of Southern Baptist Sissies, the complete lack of any shred of irony or self-awareness — not to mention a single moment of sensuality or joy — doesn't help. Presented by Theatre Out Denver through March 24, Crossroads Theatre, 2590 Washington Street, 720-382-5900, www.thedenverelement.com. Reviewed March 8.