Mack & Mabel. Mack & Mabel has a brilliant score and a piss-poor book. The musical purports to tell the story of the confused and conflicted love between Mack Sennett, impresario of the early comic silent movies, and Mabel Normand, the young woman he discovered and made a star. The score is by Jerry Herman, songwriter for Mame, Hello Dolly and La Cage Aux Folles, and is one of his best and most sophisticated — but the show still flopped on Broadway. There are humorous authentic musical touches, and the evening is lofted by one brilliant, exciting number after another — all well-performed by a troupe of accomplished singers and dancers. But these songs might best be presented in concert on their own. The real Mack and Mabel story was dark. Sennett was a dictatorial swine and Mabel a self-destructive drug addict. Michael Stewart's book tries to have it both ways, including the dark elements, but minimizing them. The result is that you never care much about them or the relationship. The moments in which Sennett arrives at his most famous ideas — the rows of bathing beauties, the Keystone Kops, the pie-in-the-face routine — are skillfully choreographed and well-timed. But though they're interesting, they're not really that funny. The odd, on-the-edge quality of "Hit 'Em On the Head," in which Sennett and his backers sing enthusiastically about the thumps, bumps and falls of 1920s movie comedy, exemplifies the dark-light nature of the material: the melody is bright and fast, the lyrics mildly sadistic. There's no reason a musical can't deliver complexity as well as entertainment, but that requires more psychological exploration than Stewart attempted. Presented by Vintage Theatre through September 14, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, 303-856-7830, vintagetheatre.org. Reviewed August 21.
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 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.