Chicago. Sort of Brechtian, sort of Cabaretish, Chicago tells a story of injustice and corruption, and tells it in the most seductive way, with witty, memorable songs, elegantly glistening dance sequences and a smart, cynical and grown-up script. Roxie Hart is an evil, self-serving little hoofer. Having murdered a man who tried to walk away from her, she cons sweet dopey husband Amos into coming up with money and enlists the services of reptilian lawyer Billy Flynn. Under Flynn's tutelage, Roxie realizes she can not only escape the hangman (the show is set in the 1920s), but finally, due to the public's fascination with murderesses, become a big star. Just one problem: Velma Kelly is the current hot murderess, and she has no intention of giving up her spot. Joannie Brosseau-Beyette and Alicia Dunfee starred as Roxie and Velma at Boulder's Dinner Theatre seven years ago, and they star again in this revival. They're completely relaxed into their roles, and they also bring a crisp precision to every note and move; their familiarity with the material and each other allows for a wonderful playfulness and exuberance. And there's also A.K. Klimpke reprising the role of reptilian lawyer Billy Flynn, Wayne Kennedy re-creating his sad sack Amos, and a horde of familiar faces in the chorus. But Reynelda Snell brings a whole new energy and interpretation — not to mention a rich, strong voice — to the key role of prison matron "Mama" Morton. The orchestra is note-perfect, Dunfee's Bob Fosse-influenced choreography thrums with energy, and there's so much sheer exuberance on the stage that you find yourself sorry when the evening ends. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through May 9, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed March 4.
Girls Only. The trouble with Girls Only, a two-woman evening of conversation, skits, singing, improvisation and audience participation, is that it's so relentlessly nice. Creator-performers Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein have worked together for many years; at some point, they read their early diaries to each other and were transfixed by the similarities and differences they found in them, as well as the insights they gained into their own psyches and the travails of puberty. This theater piece was developed from that material — but not all of that material. "I purposely don't read every diary entry in the show, because it turns out I was kind of mean, and I don't want to be mean," Klein told an interviewer. But mean is funny, and when you cut it out entirely, what do you have to joke about? Girly pink bedrooms, purses, bras, skinny models in glossy magazines. Every time they tell a story with the tiniest bite to it, Gehring and Klein — both talented and appealing stage performers — move instantly to reassure us that they don't mean it. At one point Klein relates an interesting tale about how she came to possess the badly taxidermied body of an electrocuted squirrel as a child; the minute she's completed this funny, freaky moment in an otherwise highly predictable evening, she gives a pouty, don't-get-me-wrong grin and sweetly caresses the squirrel's head. There's enough good material here for a tight, funny, one-hour-long show, but this one stretches on and on, as if Klein and Gehring had been determined to throw every single joke and piece of shtick that occurred to them in the script. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through March 14, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18, 2008.
Long Day's Journey Into Night. Everybody in Long Day's Journey Into Night has reasons for self-pity. Paterfamilias James Tyrone grew up dirt poor and uneducated, became a famous actor, lost his chance at a life of genuine artistry and sank into a grasping miserliness. According to family lore, it was his unwillingness to pay for proper medical care that condemned his wife, Mary, to a life of morphine addiction. Mary has her own grievances. As a girl, she wanted to be a nun, but she ended up spending her life in lonely hotel rooms while James toured. Their oldest son, Jamie, is a drunken layabout, filled with anger toward his father and his consumptive younger brother, Edmund, whose difficult birth caused Mary's addiction. All these people deal with their own suffering by attempting to destroy each other, and their summer house becomes a cesspool of hatred and poisoned love. There is a raw, bludgeoning power to the flood of words unleashed, but it's hard to care about any of the characters. Paragon Theatre's new venue poses problems. Rows of footlights shine distractingly into your eyes. Long Day's Journey Into Night is best suited for an intimate space, but here it's played in the round, and whenever a character has his back to you, you tend to lose the words. Still, Paragon has staged this quintessentially American piece with integrity, and the production is a genuine achievement. By the end of the very long evening, I was simultaneously sensing the surge and pull of the text and longing to run out of the theater and gulp in lungfuls of evening air. Presented by Paragon Theatre through March 13,1385 South Santa Fe Drive, 303-200-2210, www.paragontheatre.org. Reviewed February 18.
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Under Milk Wood. Described by author Dylan Thomas as a play for voices, Under Milk Wood creates a day in the life of a teeny backwater of a Welsh coastal town called Llareggub ("buggerall" spelled backward): the inhabitants' fantasies and memories; the ghosts of husbands abused and lovers lost; stories of love misplaced, sustaining faith and rage unsated; the dreamlike poetry of the slow procession from dawn to dusk to night. "Time passes," someone instructs us at the beginning. "Listen. Time passes." Over time, you meet an astonishing cast of characters, from the sweet and somewhat simple Reverend Eli Jenkins to Mr. Pugh, who wants to poison his cold, critical wife, to Mog Edwards and his beloved Myfanwy Price, who communicate only in yearning letters even though they live in the same town. There are also Mrs. Ogmore Pritchard, who does nothing but clean, dust and put things in order, and sleeps at night between the resentful ghosts of her two deceased husbands, and Polly Garter, who has conceived many children by many different men while continuing to mourn her one true love, Little Willie Wee. The best way for a director to deal with this glorious tumble of words is to get out of the way, which is exactly what Ed Baierlein has done. His staging is clean and skillful, with just enough action to keep things moving. Under Milk Wood bears comparison with those other tone poems of country life, Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology and Thornton Wilder's Our Town; all three are pieces deepened and sanctified by the presence of the dead. But there's also a wild sense of comedy here, and an unfettered poetic imagination — even if harnessed to the mundane details of daily life — that could never be matched elsewhere. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through March 21, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed February 25.