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Best Of 2014

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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Best Historic Solo

Kirkland Museum director Hugh Grant has spent the past several years rediscovering forgotten or all-but-forgotten Colorado artists who were once prominent and giving them shows. But he did something different with In Thin Air: The Art of Phyllis Hutchinson Montrose. Since the artist had never been prominent, Grant became the one to discover her. A protégée of Angelo di Benedetto, who was the reigning dean of the once-vibrant art scene in Central City, Montrose chose not to exhibit except on rare occasions; as a result, no one knew who she was, and there was no awareness in the community of her very finely crafted representational surrealist paintings, which were carried out with a meticulous technique. When Montrose was starting out sixty years ago, abstract expressionism ruled, so she was behind the times. But seen in retrospect at the Kirkland, her work looked pretty cool.

Best Book Club

This book club has everything: great titles, a dynamic facilitator, interesting company all deeply engaged in relating works of literature to their life experiences. The only hitch is you have to be in prison to join. Ex-librarian Karen Lausa's largely volunteer effort to bring serious books into the Colorado Department of Corrections, which began with a group of lifers at Limon in 2012, has expanded to several other facilities, demonstrating that incarcerated men and women, adults and juveniles are all hungry for a good story — and a chance to reflect on what it can teach them about their own wrong turns and possible paths to redemption.

Best Actor in a Comedy

Founding troupe member Evan Weissman has been missing from the Buntport stage for a while. "It's like breaking away from family," he says. "Even if you want to, you can't, and I don't want to." So it was a joy to witness his return as Alec the Amazing and All Powerful in this season's terrific revival of Jugged Rabbit Stew. Alec is a magician filled with delusions of grandeur but unable to perform a single trick, since the real magic lies in the paws of his angry and vicious white rabbit, Snowball — who has actually magicked away Alec's right arm. Alec doesn't seem to mind, however. He's filled with bouncy joie de vivre, along with inexplicable love for nasty Snowball, a love he celebrates in a full-throated song about "That Special Hare." Perhaps it was Weissman's delight at being back on stage that made him perform with such fizz and brio. Whatever it was, bravo, Alec!

Best Actor in a Drama
Cajardo Lindsey in <i>The Brothers Size</i>

We've seen Cajardo Lindsey playing thoughtful, temperate people for a few years now and doing it very well, but before he appeared in Curious Theatre Company's The Brothers Size, we'd never understood the man's sheer power as an actor. In this myth- and dream-saturated story, Lindsey played Orgun, owner of an auto shop. His younger brother, Oshoosi, had just been released from prison, and Orgun expected him to enter the same trade, but Oshoosi preferred to laze in bed and fantasize about freedom, car rides and pussy. In the Yoruba tradition, Orgun is a blacksmith, and Cajardo, beating metal into submission, towered over the evening, terrifying in his anger, heartbreaking in his grief, both human and larger than human, and sometimes — like the play itself — wonderfully and unexpectedly funny.

1080 Acoma St., Denver, 80204
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303-623-0524
Best Actor in a Drama
Cajardo Lindsey in <i>The Brothers Size</i>

We've seen Cajardo Lindsey playing thoughtful, temperate people for a few years now and doing it very well, but before he appeared in Curious Theatre Company's The Brothers Size, we'd never understood the man's sheer power as an actor. In this myth- and dream-saturated story, Lindsey played Orgun, owner of an auto shop. His younger brother, Oshoosi, had just been released from prison, and Orgun expected him to enter the same trade, but Oshoosi preferred to laze in bed and fantasize about freedom, car rides and pussy. In the Yoruba tradition, Orgun is a blacksmith, and Cajardo, beating metal into submission, towered over the evening, terrifying in his anger, heartbreaking in his grief, both human and larger than human, and sometimes — like the play itself — wonderfully and unexpectedly funny.

1080 Acoma St., Denver, 80204
MAP
303-623-0524
Best Actor in a Musical
Seth Caikowski in <i>The Full Monty</i>

Seth Caikowski has played sidekicks and leading men, dignified figures and cartoonish clowns. In Boulder's Dinner Theatre's The Full Monty, he got to display another aspect of his versatility as working-class Jerry, tough-minded and humorous, but emotionally vulnerable in his relationship with his young son and ex-wife. Since this is a musical about regular guys putting on a clumsy strip act, the dancing can't look too professional — but it should still be an audience-pleaser. Caikowski handled this contradiction with skill, athletically light on his feet without appearing dancer-trained. And he imbued the entire role with dignity and strength.

5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 80303
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303-449-6000
Best Actress in a Comedy
Jamie Ann Romero in <i>Sylvia</i>

W.C. Fields is supposed to have said, "Never work with children or animals," but he could never have imagined the scene-stealing ability of a charming adult woman like Jamie Ann Romero playing the role of a dog in Sylvia. Sylvia is a stray brought home from the park by Greg, who's going through a midlife crisis. She's cute and appealing, and she worships him from the get-go, so naturally Greg becomes obsessed with her — to the distress of his wife, Kate. Sylvia can seem sensitive, thoughtful and empathetic, but she can also be a manipulative nuisance, peeing on the carpet, chewing Kate's shoes, humping a visitor's leg or snarling furiously at a passing cat. Romero threw herself into all these actions with relish, swinging enchantingly from mood to mood, and her playful presence made the entire Lone Tree Arts Center production magical.

10075 Commons St., Littleton, 80124
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720-509-1000
Best Actress in a Drama

She was so ordinary, this woman Emma, who burst into her dying ex-husband Ulysses's dilapidated trailer twenty years after she'd left him, absconding in the middle of the night with their son. She looked like anyone you'd find parking her car at the supermarket or sitting on the porch sipping beer and catching the rays of the setting sun. Low-key, affectionate, manipulative by turn, Kate Gleason's Emma was furious with Ulysses — and she also loved and wanted to take care of him, attempting to tidy up and, having seen the hideous contents of his fridge, buying groceries and cleaning supplies. But she also had her own kind of toughness. The strength of the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's production of Annapurna lay in the interchange between these two people, the grubby familiarity, old jokes and memories, banked-up fires of anger and betrayal. With strong support from Chris Kendall's Ulysses, Gleason brought Emma to profound and convincing life.

Best Actress in a Musical
Erica Sweany in <i>Curtains</i>
arvadacenter.org

Niki is the ingenue of Curtains, an odd combination of murder mystery, farce and heartfelt tribute to musical theater. In the role, Erica Sweany was charming throughout, long-limbed and graceful, with a lovely singing voice. In the Arvada Center production, she really got to strut her stuff in a gorgeous Rogers-and-Astaire-style duet with Jim Poulos called "A Tough Act to Follow," a number that provided such pure, dizzy pleasure, you wanted it never to stop.

6901 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada, 80003
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720-898-7200
Best Album-Cover Design

The Raven and the Writing Desk tapped artists Emi Brady and Tim Tindle to design the cover art for its luminous 2013 EP Scavenger. True to the band's imaginative aesthetic and songwriting, Brady and Tindle created a fold-out raven, colorful on the outside and black and white on the inside, where you'll find the bird's skeleton along with hand-lettered lyrics and credits. It's the perfect accompaniment for the group's literate, baroque pop songs. Many bands want to create a secret musical world, but The Raven and the Writing Desk went beyond the songs, providing a real work of art in which to wrap the music.

Best Album-Release Show

By holding its release show for (compass) at the Eron Johnson Antiques warehouse and incorporating a sort of treasure hunt, Chimney Choir made good on much of its mystique. The space truly is a warehouse, where the band held shows long ago amid architectural artifacts from old houses. The performance featured sets from similarly minded artists such as Laura Goldhamer and Ian Cooke. Chimney Choir created skits that were performed throughout the show and tied in to the album's central theme of finding one's own compass in life. Thanks to the band's care and attention to detail, it felt almost magical.

389 S. Lipan St., Denver, 80223
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303-722-2014
Best Alternative Take on the Western Tradition
<i>Cross Currents</i>

Native American art has been dominated by traditional forms such as weaving, jewelry, pottery and baskets. But for the past few decades, American Indian artists have also plunged into the international contemporary-art dialogue while still maintaining their heritage. For Cross Currents, at the MSU Center for Visual Art, creative director Cecily Cullen invited a group of these Native American artists from across the country. Two of them, photographer Will Wilson and installation artist Marie Watt, are fairly well known, but it was emerging artist Merritt Johnson, a creator of paintings and costumes, who was the show's great revelation.

965 Santa Fe Dr., Denver, 80204
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303-294-5207
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Best Historic Solo: In Thin Air: The Art of Phyllis Hutchinson Montrose

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