Give yourself an early holiday gift and enjoy a night of local theater, whether a Christmas show or a musical that unwraps the mysteries of romance. Keep reading for capsule reviews of four productions now around town.
A Christmas Carol: Every time I see A Christmas Carol, I think about poverty and want. But this year, attending the production on the same evening that Republicans rushed through a so-called tax-reform bill that threatens to undo protections for the old, the sick, children and working people, the issue felt painfully pressing. I watched as Sam Gregory’s Scrooge pushed aside a street urchin with outstretched cup, falling to his knees to grab the coins the child had dropped, and berated two men collecting money for charity: “Are there no prisons?...No workhouses?” Fortunately, this is no false-cheery Christmas Carol; director Melissa Rain Anderson gives full weight to the shadows in Dickens’s fable, as well as his message about the need for human goodness and generosity in an often grim and frightening world. That doesn’t mean the production is preachy or solemn, or that it lessens the story’s bright magic. Gregory plays Scrooge with playfulness and humor; his terror at the ghostly visitations is hilarious, and you can’t help grinning at his unrestrained joy in his own ultimate conversion. The first act is more absorbing than the second — though the second has its high points. The story of Scrooge and his three ghosts is just more interesting than the saga of the poor Cratchits: All that virtue and pathos feels a bit sentimental and leaden. Still, it’s grand to have so much good singing, such perfectly Dickensian Christmas-card images, and all those wonderful children on stage. What began as an evening of anger for me ended in a kind of transformation — and not just Scrooge’s. Presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company through December 24, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org.
First Date: A Musical Comedy. Casey and Aaron have been set up on a crucial first date at a restaurant, even though they seem mismatched: He’s a serious guy with a steady job in finance who hates blind dates; she’s what he eventually terms — though having uttered the term, he hastily retreats from it — a “blind-date slut.” He wears a suit; she’s in ripped leggings and has some vaguely defined job at a gallery. Like all human beings, both are dogged by their pasts and the people in them — friends, previous lovers, parents — and all of these characters appear during the evening to berate, confuse or encourage the couple. For Casey, it’s sister Lauren who’s most persistent; Lauren has children and a nice stable marriage — a status both sisters see as ultimately desirable — and she wants the same for Casey. But Lauren’s not nearly as persistent as Allison, the bossy, manipulative woman Aaron almost married. Casey has a gay best friend who provides a handful of bail-out calls over the evening — though she soon decides she doesn’t want to be bailed out. She’s also distracted by the memory of a couple of bad boys she was attracted to, the kind of guys good girls always want to save. The topics touched on in the script aren’t very original — commitment phobia, the ticking biological clock, female self-consciousness about eating on a first date (will he think less of her if she tears into a burger?), wild girl versus repressed businessman. Does Aaron actually care about corporate finance? Is Casey really into anything arty, aside from her cunningly slit tights? If they felt more like real people, we’d care more about whether they connect or not. Still, the show works because of the talent on stage, and should be a perfect date for anyone wanting to slip off their shoes under the table, sip a cocktail, and recover from a taxing day at work. Presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts through April 22 at the Garner Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org. Read the review of First Date: A Musical Comedy.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Under director Gavin Mayer, this Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is sumptuous — a huge, detailed, expensive production, the stage swarming with talent. Figures leaping and twirling, pulling little pranks everywhere you look. Elaborate costumes. A set that seems almost embroidered, all intricate curlicues, jewelry tones and shimmering detail, with colors reflecting those of Joseph's gorgeous, swirling coat, continually re-emphasized by the clever lighting. The dancers bring bright energy and light feet to Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck's choreography. And, of course, the one thing you can count on at an Arvada Center musical is fine voices. There are many on this stage, in particular that of Aaron Young, who plays Joseph. Musicals here are often over-miked, but this one is well calibrated by sound designer David Thomas to bring out the nuances of the score. Not only that, but you can hear every word as it's sung. The music is mostly toe-tapping and lighthearted, with some out-and-out jokey stuff thrown in: "One More Angel in Heaven," for instance, sung by Joseph's brothers as a hoedown; "Those Canaan Days," rendered in the tough, gravelly rhythms of an Edith Piaf number, with everyone wearing berets and a mime doing his stuff in one corner. And no one who's ever seen a version of Joseph — and I'm doubting there's anyone around here who hasn't — could forget the Pharaoh's impersonation of Elvis on "Song of the King," which always brings down the house. Here it's an uncanny feat of mimicry by James Francis. In all, this is a spectacular and generous-hearted holiday gift. Presented by the Arvada Center through December 23, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-720, arvadacenter.org. Read the review of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
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Resolutions. For the final Edge production of 2017, artistic director Rick Yaconis commissioned a new work by Josh Hartwell, known around Denver for his acting and directing skills as well as his writing abilities. Yaconis asked for something seasonal, but not clichéd or sentimental, and he also wanted the piece to feature new year’s resolutions. Hartwell obliged — but not in the way anyone who knows his subtly intelligent performances or the sensitive, layered productions he directs would have anticipated. Turns out this civilized, literate artist has the soul of a splattershock jock. The action is set in Vail, where some friends have congregated to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Dellen is an ex-dancer, and the well-appointed home in which they’ve gathered, with its antler chandelier and pseudo-rustic decor, comes courtesy of her rich ex-husband. She’s waiting for her young ski-instructor lover, Trevor. There’s affectionate joking between Dellen and her warm-spirited longtime friend Greg, who is grieving the end of his relationship with his husband. Enter Mindy and Peter, owners of a pot shop. Peter is stoned, and he delivers to his stunned and silent friends a monologue as long and incomprehensible as Lucky’s in Waiting for Godot — though you’re wasting your time if you search it for deep meaning. When an intruder erupts onto the scene, the civilized comedy transforms into a cross between the satiric horror of a movie like Scream or Student Bodies and a seriously murderous Stephen King story. Blood spurts. Terror and torture reign. The tone of the play begins to balance, sometimes a touch uneasily, between laughter and repulsion. And the result is a swift, funny, clever, 85-minute holiday treat. Presented by the Edge Theater Company through December 31, 1560 Teller Street in Lakewood, 303-232-0363, theedgetheater.com. Read the review of Resolutions.
For more theater information, go to our Calendar.