The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). The Colorado Shakespeare Festival staged a pretty good version of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) five years ago, so we're not sure why the CSF decided to bring it back this season. The show, written in 1987 by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, purports to deliver all of Shakespeare's plays in a single evening; the three hyperkinetic actors — Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski, Ian Andersen and Evan Zes — who perform this marvel of compaction even threaten to throw in the sonnets as well. The script leaves lots of room for byplay, improvisation and audience engagement, which means the actors' personal idiosyncrasies become a large part of the entertainment. The comedies are condensed into one narration that twines together all the plays' improbable plots, and each play is disposed of faster and more efficiently than the one before; the history plays become a football game with the crowd as football. A new version of Hamlettakes up the entire second act. There are moments that are close to inspired, as when the cast selects a woman from the audience to play Ophelia and then persuades the other audience members to portray her id, ego and superego by chanting and waving their hands. But really, there's not much here here. There are no incisive parodies, no attempts to mimic Shakespeare's verse or style, no pouncing on the actual absurdities in his plays — of which there are many. This isn't the kind of satire that arises from a real affection for the work, but the kind of humor you'd expect from a bunch of clever undergraduates studying for finals while chugging beer. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 17, University Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554. coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed June 27.
50 Shades of Loud. Heritage Square Music Hall will close down at the end of the year after more than two decades of hilarity in its Golden home, where a unique small company evolved an equally unique performing style. The shows are simultaneously bumbling and brilliantly staged, professional and apparently amateurish, silly and clever — and also gutsy and funny as hell. For a long time, a devoted audience came along night after night for the ride. But that audience dwindled, and that means the end of the music and laughter. For the moment, however, there's plenty of both as the intrepid troupe presents 50 Shades of Loud, the tenth and final entry in its Loud series — original summer-spoof musicals in which the members perform a string of popular numbers linked by a very thin excuse for a plot. In this one, Rory (Rory Pierce) has bought the house where T.J. (T.J. Mullin) and Annie (Annie Dwyer) grew up, and is about to move in — except that Mom is on the john reading Omagazineand shows no inclination to vacate. Rory's ex-wife, Johnette (Johnette Toye), is moving in a couple of blocks away. The tumultuous relationship between Annie and her teenage boyfriend, Bobby Lee — always played, with varying degrees of commitment or reluctance, by some guy Dwyer picks out of the audience — remains tumultuous even though they're now married. Annie plonks herself on this Bobby Lee's lap, ruffles his hair, drags him onto the stage, and berates him frequently. The entire cast is in terrific form. They do solos, duets and group numbers; play various instruments; execute sharp, synchronized moves; croon love songs and belt out hard rock. They don wigs and absurd costumes; the men sashay in ball gowns. And it wouldn't be Heritage without everyone donning bowl-cut black wigs for a Beatles number ("Back in the U.S.S.R.") and a hugely fat-suited Dwyer trundling around the stage as Mama Cass for "Creeque Alley." All the numbers are fun, but some are performed with such crazed passion that the entire house erupts in joyous shouts. Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through September 8, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800, heritagesquare.info. Reviewed July 11.
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Richard II. Just about every character in Richard II spends his time jockeying for power. When the action opens, the king is hearing a dispute between two nobles, Bolingbroke and Mowbray; he banishes both men. Bolingbroke's father, John of Gaunt, dies soon after, and Richard seizes Gaunt's lands — which are Bolingbroke's by law. An angry Bolingbroke returns to England, musters an army and deposes Richard. At first grandiose and oblivious, Richard is beaten down by events, forced to surrender his crown and scepter and, finally, alone in prison, brought face to face with his mortality. By the end, he's changed, if not transformed. He remains self-pitying but gives a series of astonishingly beautiful speeches on his fate. James Symons has directed a lucid, balanced and intelligent production that allows the viewer to focus on the dynamics among the characters, as well as the king's fate. The set is spare and elegant, the lighting and music inconspicuously expressive. Steven Cole Hughes is a strong Bolingbroke and Chip Persons an effective Richard, and there are fine performances in the supporting roles. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 16, University Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 25.