I Hate Hamlet. I Hate Hamlet is a bit like the curate's egg: hilariously funny in parts, and in others so idiotic that you're embarrassed for the actors. Why is the radiant Jamie Ann Romero wasting her talents wafting about as Deirdre, a stagestruck 29-year-old virgin who'll have sex with her boyfriend Andrew only if he plays Hamlet in Central Park? Why is the redoubtably talented Martha Harmon Pardee sporting an excruciating New York accent as real-estate agent Felicia and uttering cries like a calf stabbed in the neck while supposedly conducting a seance intended to summon the ghost of her dead mother and — with Mom's help — also that of the great American actor, John Barrymore? Andrew, star of a television series called L.A. Medical, has been hired to play Hamlet not because of his talent, but because his fame will swell the audience. Andrew is aware of this, hates and is intimidated by the play, and – most important -- has a major case of cold feet. He's moving into an apartment once inhabited by Barrymore for the duration — hence Felicia's seance. Of course, Barrymore shows up. And at this point, the evening becomes — at least for a while — both smart and laugh-out-loud funny. First, because author Paul Rudnick finds his feet here. Second, because Sam Gregory plays Barrymore, and from his first entrance — "Am I dead or just incredibly drunk?" — he pulls out all the stops. Steven Cole Hughes is equally riveting as television producer Gary. When it comes to Shakespeare himself, Rudnick seems to want to have it both ways. He provides lots of easy wisecracks, but when Andrew asks for acting advice, Barrymore's response is a quietly moving rendition of Hamlet's "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you." What you ultimately get here is a mix of cleverness, cheap shots, dopey visual jokes, some astonishingly good comic acting, and a whole bunch of scenes that go on way too long. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 9, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org.
The Marriage of Figaro. In the third act of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at Central City Opera, sopranos Sinead Mulhern and Anna Christy sing "Che Soave Zefiretto," the duet in which the Countess (Mulhern) composes a letter for her maid Susanna (Christy) to take down; the two women are playing a comic trick on the Count — but this just happens to be one of the loveliest and most lyrical pieces of music ever composed. The countess lays out the phrases and asks Susanna to repeat them, which she does: The women sing separately, then alternate, and finally their voices twine together. There's something about the melody, the structure and the way the duet encompasses both womanly mischief and the Countess's very real sorrow at losing the Count that makes you to want the singing to go on forever. The plot involves a lot of familiar eighteenth-century devices: mistaken identities, improbable plot twists; a trouser role; wily servants who are smarter and more ethical than their supposed betters; and principals lusting for people they shouldn't be lusting for. When the Count kneels at the end to ask the Countess's forgiveness, it takes a heart of stone not to be moved — but that's because of the music, not the man. Nothing indicates that this randy royal won't stray again. This theme of class conflict is clear in the Count's arrogance toward others, including his wife, and his intention to exercise the traditional droit de seigneur by bedding Susanna on her wedding night. It's also evident in Susanna and Figaro's irreverent refusal to bow down to authority. Under the skilled, lively baton of Adrian Kelly, the cast is headed by Anna Christy as Susanna and Michael Sumuel as Figaro. Christy is an expressive performer, and her soprano is superb: light, lovely and assured. I suspect we'll be hearing a lot about Sumuel, with his dark, gleaming bass baritone, humor and infectious exuberance. Edward Parks has a rich, strong, supple baritone, and he and Mulhern make beautiful music together as the Count and Countess. Built by Welsh miners in 1878, the 550-seat Central City Opera House has a warm ambience and is perfectly proportioned for sound. It's a fitting setting for a composer who seemed unable to contain his own genius or figure out how to hold back for a moment and stop giving pleasure. Presented through July 25 at Central City Opera, 124 Eureka Street, Central City. 303-292-6700, centralcityopera.org. Reviewed July 10.
The Merry Wives of Windsor.The Merry Wives of Windsor isn't one of Shakespeare's best plays. Unlike the Sir John Falstaff we know from the history plays — the cunning, cowardly, zesty, twistedly wise old fool who served as a kind of father figure to young Prince Hal — the character here is just a buffoon who, motivated by greed and lust, attempts to bed two virtuous wives, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford...and the latter has a crazed, irrationally jealous husband. Revolted by Falstaff's advances, the women plot revenge ,and Master Ford, his suspicions aroused, also sets a trap. Falstaff's punishment, like most corny stage jokes, comes in threes. First he's hidden in a laundry basket filled with smelly clothes and tipped into a muddy river. The second mishap involves his escape dressed as a washerwoman while being beaten by Ford. There's a supernatural element to the third trick, involving scary fairies in a dark woodland. Director Seth Panitch has set this tale at a Catskills hotel in 1962; Falstaff is a standup comic on the circuit. The production includes lots and lots of '50s songs; sometimes it feels as if every on-stage event is framed or punctuated by a familiar, rocking tune. Also thrown in are all kinds of shticks and bits: some quite wonderful, some less effective. Anachronism and pop-culture references are everywhere. It's all very frolicky and jolly, but periodically you get so caught up wondering at all the antics that you forget the gist of the story and who on stage is whom. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 9. Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 3.
Shrek: the Musical. There are a lot of things to like about Shrek: The Musical at Boulder's Dinner Theatre. They include the Dragon, created by Cory Gilstrap and manipulated by a handful of actors. Blessed with the rich, seductive voice of Amanda Earls, she's a riveting, literally huge presence. And there are many other spectacular special effects. All the leads are excellent. Even as written, Fiona is no regular fairy-tale princess. But Norrell Moore takes the role several steps beyond whatever the script requires, endowing Fiona with huge amounts of spring, cheek and sheer verve. Seth Caikowski plays Shrek with a pleasantly slight Scottish accent, and the kindness and diffidence he projects provide a fine contrast with all the cavorting going on around him. In his furry gray Donkey suit, Tyrell Rae is the perfect foil, preening, whining and strutting. Trapped on his knees, his lank black hair falling around his face, Scott Severtson has loads of evil fun as Lord Farquaad. The script is by Pulitzer winner David Lindsay-Abaire, which means Shrek is way less dumb than the average Disney musical and full of clever, silly references; a couple of moments are downright Monty Python-esque. Though the songs tend to be mediocre, they're delivered with such verve it almost doesn't matter, and the entire production is a delight. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 6, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder. 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed May 29.
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The Tempest. Prospero in The Tempest, now in a checkered production at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, rules over a magical island. He is the rightful Duke of Milan, but his position was usurped by his brother many years earlier, and he was cast out to sea on a rickety craft with his baby daughter, Miranda. A couple of supernatural creatures inhabit his island: Ariel, the evanescent spirit of air, and the sullen man-beast Caliban. Having learned that his enemies are on a sea voyage, Prospero calls up a terrible storm to deposit them on his shores, and one of the play's central questions is whether he'll take his revenge or show them mercy once they're in his power. Naturally, being Shakespeare, there are depths upon depths of meaning here. The Tempest is about magic and the magic of creation, and Prospero is often thought of as an artist, a creator of worlds, and a stand-in for Shakespeare himself. There's also a lot of musing about kingship and rightful rule. This production is lively and inventive and shows a respect for Shakespeare's language that makes the dialogue, the play's overall contour and the ideas raised clean and comprehensible. Other elements are iffy. Ariel clambers, falls, catches herself and turns upside down on a drift of aerial silk, and while at times the effect is dazzling, at others it distracts. Some tricks and tics I could have done without: the blue cloth wafted around by a group of young women to represent the ocean; Prospero voicing his demand for silence — "No tongue" — like a contemporary dad forbidding his teenager to deep-kiss. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through July 31, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org.