On Golden Pond. As this play opens, Norman and Ethel Thayer are moving back into their summer house in Maine. Every summer for 48 years, he's come here to fish and she to putter around, read, gather strawberries. This, their last visit, represents a slow, gentle fading. There's just a tiny bit of conflict. When daughter Chelsea — who's 42, with a couple of failed relationships behind her — arrives with her new boyfriend, Bill, and his teenage son, Billy, we learn that she harbors a great deal of anger toward her father. It's never clear quite why, though she does remember him calling her fat and ignoring her when she was young. Chelsea's angry with her mother, too, for not standing up for her. The problem with the 1979 script is that although Norman and Ethel are endearing, there's nothing particularly interesting about their lives. Most of the time you're watching cute bickering that feels like the dialogue in an above-average sitcom. Chelsea and Bill leave young Billy with her parents and set out on a trip to Europe. As Billy bonds with Norman, it becomes blindingly clear that Norman's big problem with his daughter is that he wanted a son all along. So when she returns and sees what has happened, does she weep, rage, rationalize? She doesn't do any of this — she can't, because her character isn't fully developed. It's always a treat to attend a play in the antique and elegant lobby of the Barth Hotel, one of fourteen residences maintained for elderly and disabled people by the nonprofit Senior Housing Options, a terrific agency. And in some ways, On Golden Pond is a perfect choice for the venue. But neither this fact, nor some wonderful acting — particularly Lawrence Hecht's magnificent turn as Norman — can ransom a turgid script. Presented at the Barth Hotel through August 30, 1514 17th Street, 303-595-4464, ext. 10, seniorhousingoptions.org. Reviewed August 7.
Rent. The audience for Ignite Theatre's Rent is large, boisterous, young, and deeply involved with the action. This enthusiasm is matched by the enthusiasm on stage, the actors singing their hearts out and giving their all, clearly glad to be together and performing, thrilled with the material. Rent is a tribute to Puccini's La Bohème, transplanted with a strong dash of irony from Paris to New York's funky Lower East Side and set in the late 1980s. The artists here are filmmaker Mark and songwriter Roger, squatters in an abandoned flat. Roger's great love is a tough little exotic dancer, Mimi; Mark has just been dumped by performance artist Maureen for Joanne, a Princeton-educated attorney. Their friend Collins, a professor at NYU, is mugged as he arrives to visit and tended to on the street by cross-dressing street drummer Angel. The drug of choice is heroin, and in this version, early death comes not from tuberculosis, but from AIDS. The AIDS epidemic decimated the New York arts scene in the 1980s, but the plot rambles against that dramatic backdrop. Directors Keith Rabin and Amy Osatinski have gotten good to terrific performances from their cast. The absolute stunner is mezzo-soprano Lindsey Falduto, a clear, strong, lovely singer with a fiercely expressive stage presence as promiscuous Maureen. It must have been hard finding a Joanne who could match her for sheer magnetism, but Erica Trisler does it with a gutsy, grounded performance and a voice that plays nicely both with and against Falduto's. Still, there is a major problem with this otherwise vital production: Nearly the entire musical is sung, and while you sense subtlety, humor, pathos and complexity in the music, the sound quality is so poor that it all gets flattened. Every word of the songs has a felty fuzz around it, as if you'd hit the damper pedal on a piano. And the orchestration sometimes threatens to drown the singing. But with more focus on precision, choreography and detail, this fearless and ambitious company should be able carve out an important spot in the theater scene. Presented by Ignite Theatre through August 31 at the Aurora Fox, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 720-362-2697, ignitetheatre.com. Reviewed August 14.
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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 that Shrekis 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.