Kendra Kassebaum and Stephanie J. Block in 
Kendra Kassebaum and Stephanie J. Block in Wicked.

Oz's New Heroine

FRI, 9/16

Medieval myth says that Adam's first wife, Lilith, was a demon, but feminist scholars, who delight in re-interpreting old stories, declared in the 1970s that she was merely an independent woman -- the first ever to rebel against a dominating husband and a patriarchal God. Gregory Maguire took somewhat the same tack in his 1995 novel Wicked, writing about life in Oz before Dorothy and Toto ever arrived. He focused on the life of Elphaba, known to generations of Oz fans as the Wicked Witch of the West. Elphaba surmounted her dysfunctional family -- as well as her green skin and pointed shark's teeth -- to become a smart and principled college student. Here she met the shallow, egotistical Glinda, and the two forged an unlikely friendship. Learning that the powerful Wizard of Oz was corrupt, Elphaba set out to reform the kingdom. Wicked was turned into a Broadway musical by a set of highly credentialed Broadway mavens: songwriter Stephen Schwartz, who created Godspell and Pippin; Winnie Holzman, a writer who'd worked on My So-Called Life and Thirtysomething; and director Joe Mantello, a Tony winner. The show is a multimillion-dollar, flash-and-dazzle project with lots of plot and major production values. CurtainUp reviewer Elyse Sommer complained that Wicked reveals "more than a few symptoms of multiple personality disorder," but other critics praised the show as smart and intensely entertaining. Denver viewers have already voted by buying out the house.

When the curtain goes up at 8 p.m. tonight, Denver won't be getting the stars who wowed New York audiences, but we will see the first-rate original touring company, including the incomparable Carol Kane as Madame Morrible. Tickets are still available through a day-of-performance lottery held two and a half hours before curtain, and patrons can also check for last-minute ticket releases at 303-893-4100. Wicked runs through October 2 at the Buell Theatre, in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. For more information, log on to -- Juliet Wittman

Bug Out
Promiscuity takes a comic look at life and love.
FRI, 9/16

When someone makes a Kafka reference, it's usually in a bit on societal alienation or some other pseudo-intellectual rant. When Denver playwright Steve Paulding does it, he's just trying to get a laugh.

In Promiscuity, which he wrote and co-directs with Adam Schor, the main character hallucinates on mushrooms and has heart-to-heart talks with a giant bug named Greg. The plot involves Brian's life, including the three women with whom he's sleeping, his best friend Rocker (a seemingly homophobic college football player), and Brian's roommate, who's newly outed and has his eyes set on a hustler. Although it has dramatic potential, Paulding makes sure the work stays comic.

"I don't consider it a soap opera," Paulding says, describing it instead as "slice-of-life vignettes."

In any case, there's always the guy dressed in an elaborate insect costume to keep things upbeat. Promiscuity premieres at 8 p.m. tonight at The Playwright Theatre, 2119 East 17th Avenue, and runs through October 22. For tickets or more information, call 303-499-0383 or log on to -- Tuyet Nguyen


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