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.
In the Heights. A lot goes on in three days in Washington Heights, Manhattan — at least as portrayed in In the Heights. Graffiti Pete gets driven away from Usnavi's bodega — where everyone stops for light, sweet coffee in the morning — before he can make his mark on the door; Usnavi greets the neighborhood and yearns for pretty Vanessa; Vanessa likes Usnavi, but longs to get out of Washington Heights; Kevin and Camila run their taxi-dispatch shop and welcome back their daughter, Nina, the neighborhood's big success story since she escaped it to study at Stanford; Nina — whose life isn't quite as perfect as everyone imagines — teases and flirts with Kenny, an old friend. There is also the figure who represents the history and soul of this immigrant community: Abuela Claudia. In her first — and very ambitious — venture as a director, Rebecca Joseph does almost full justice to this warmhearted and endearing show. The action flows well, and she keeps her large cast singing and dancing with exuberance. But in some ways the production adds to the plot's vagueness. It's sometimes hard to hear the words being sung. Though the choreography is pleasing, it could be cleaner and crisper in parts, as could the action in general. Still, the joyful energy of the cast makes up for these minor problems. Presented by Vintage Theatre through September 8, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, 303-856-7830, vintagetheatre.org. Reviewed August 15.
Steel Magnolias. This play was written in 1987, inspired by the death of playwright Robert Harling's diabetic sister. It's a feel-good Southern soap about women bonding over love and loss, so that when one of them exclaims that her favorite emotion is "laughter through tears," she's pretty much summing up the plot. While it's hard to understand why anyone would want to revive this old warhorse now, the Barth Hotel production reveals what a difference a first-rate cast can make. The setting is appropriate: The Barth is one of fourteen residences maintained for elderly and disabled people by the nonprofit Senior Housing Options. Steel Magnolias is set in Truvy's beauty salon, which, like the hotel itself, serves as a warm place of comfort and refuge. The salon is frequented by the women of Natchitoches, Louisiana, as they gossip, laugh, pretty up and face life's celebrations, crises and tragedies together. Director Ashlee Temple has assembled six of Denver's finest actresses to play these women: Adrian Egolf and Rachel Fowler as mother and daughter Shelby and M'Lynn; Devon James as shy Annelle, who becomes Truvy's surrogate daughter; Billie McBride and Patty Figel as a pair of cranky and irrepressible friends; and Rhonda Brown as savvy, funny, whip-smart Truvy herself. The men of the town are never visible; we learn about their antics through the mocking or loving descriptions of their women. There's a strong sense of empathy and respect among these actors, and this leads to terrific ensemble work — perfect timing, and that rare sense of meaning being communicated not just through the lines, but between and under them as well. Which means that in the end, this often-told story of love, loss and community comes across as sharp and sweet rather than soapy. Presented by the Barth Hotel through August 24, 1514 17th Street, 303-595-4464, ext. 10, seniorhousingoptions.org. Reviewed August 15.