Animal Crackers. Animal Crackers is a romp, a trifle — full of puns, malapropisms and visual jokes, and utterly, unabashedly silly. The plot is just an excuse for the crazy brothers, nominally playing actual characters, to visit a Long Island mansion and pull off a series of stunts. There are elements familiar from Marx Brothers movies: a palatial home; an impassive butler; a majestic grande dame who's continually hoodwinked but, despite this, never fazed; two pairs of young lovers who encounter obstacles and misunderstandings. We also get a great explorer returned from Africa. The plot — what there is of it — focuses on a valuable painting that the grande dame, Mrs. Rittenhouse, is showing off for guests; it's stolen and re-stolen for purposes either nefarious or tender-hearted. We recognize the Marx Brothers, though they have different names. That explorer, Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding, is Groucho, complete with jet-black mustache and cigar. Emanuel Ravelli, the one in the odd-shaped hat with a broad fake Italian accent who can play a mean, tricky piano, is Chico. Harpo, aka The Professor, is the silent brother whose movements, facial expressions and sudden toots on a horn say everything that needs to be said. Zeppo's around, too, moving in and out of various characters. Few in the audience were around when the Marx Brothers first made their mark; most know the performers through reruns or later homages to their work. But everyone, young or old, laughed uproariously throughout. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through May 11, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org. Reviewed April 17.
Spamalot. This is a terrific musical to begin with, a hilarious romp through English myth and history, and the new Aurora Fox production underlines its strengths. The fabled King Arthur sets forth accompanied by his faithful squire, Patsy, who serves as an overworked and underappreciated beast of burden. After a while, God himself appears as a talking wooden head to instruct Arthur and his knights to take up the quest for the Holy Grail. There's a bit of arguing while the knights try to puzzle out what this grail actually is. "God the all-knowing almighty has misplaced a cup?" asks an incredulous knight. But they begin the quest and encounter many adventures. There's the customary sad maiden imprisoned in a tower by her cruel father, except in Spamalot the maiden's a he: a tender princeling who doesn't know he's gay — particularly since the word as we use it wouldn't have been known at the time — but is happy to find out. He's rescued by the bold Sir Lancelot. Given his name, you know Lancelot's a closet case, and he soon gets outed in tripping song and dance. The most terrifying enemy the knights face — as everyone who's seen the Monty Python film on which this musical is based surely remembers — is a fluffy white bunny who can rip people's limbs from their bodies. In addition to spoofing the Arthurian legends, Spamalot makes fun of Broadway musicals — such as itself. Composers John Du Prez and Eric Idle know just what kinds of songs you're expecting — the pulsing, yearning love ballad; the inspirational, uplifting follow-your-dreams number; a lighthearted toe-tapper — and come up with samples of all these and more. The songs are not just snort-liquid-through-your-nose funny; they're actually tuneful and musically sophisticated. Piper Lindsay Arpan, who appeared in the Broadway production, has assembled a talented cast, starting with Sarah Rex as the Lady of the Lake. It's a role made for an actress to get her teeth into, and Sarah Rex does just that, shaking the poor thing like a terrier with a rat and making an outsized role even bigger. She's crazy funny, and she deploys a supple, powerful voice that can slide from a gentle coo to a roof-shaking belt in an instant. Presented by the Aurora Fox through May 4. 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, aurorafox.org. Reviewed April 24.