Cats. This company does as good a job with Cats as one can imagine. The dancing, choreographed by Stephen Bertles, who also directed, is seamless. The cast is lithe and graceful. They slither like snakes. They leap high and land without a sound. They're wonderfully into character, batting at each other with kitty-cat paws, or hissing or rubbing a head lightly against a fellow actor's shoulder. The voices and performances are also fine, and there are a few good numbers, such as "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer" and "Gus the Theatre Cat." There's also the T.S. Eliot factor: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is the dour old poet's most playful work. But this is still Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer-impresario who arrived on the musical-theater scene like a soggy gray blanket, snuffing out any sparks of wit or originality and leaving in their place a huge, throbbing, manipulative, faintly ecclesiastical and unfocusedly ecstatic swamp of sentimentality. It's a swamp that snares these dancing kitties' feet, no matter how high they try to leap. Presented by Boulder Dinner Theatre through May 1, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-442-5671, www.theatreinboulder.com. Reviewed December 2.
Impulse Theater. Basements and comedy go together like beer and nuts or toddlers and sandboxes. The basement of the Wynkoop Brewery where Impulse Theater performs is crowded, loud and energetic. Impulse does no prepared skits, nothing but pure improv -- which means that what you see changes every night, and so does the team of actors. These actors set up and follow certain rules and frameworks; they rely on audience suggestions to get these scenes going or to vary the action. Your level of enjoyment depends a lot on whether or not you like the players. Charm is a factor, and so is the ability to take risks. Fortunately, the performers are clever and fast on their feet, willing to throw themselves into the action but never betraying tension or anxiety, perfectly content to shrug off a piece that isn't coming together. The show is funny when the actors hit a groove, but equally funny when they get stymied. So, in a way, the improvisers -- and the audience -- can't lose. Presented by Impulse Theater in an open-ended run, Wynkoop Brewing Co., 18th and Wynkoop streets, 303-297-2111 or www.impulsetheater.com. Reviewed June 3.
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Jacques Brel was a Belgian singer-songwriter whose reputation took flight in the 1950s and '60s. His songs influenced, among others, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Sting and Bob Dylan, and they have been sung by such diverse artists as Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone. They're verbally and musically complex, sentimental and cynical, worldly wise and world-weary, celebratory, funny. Has anyone since Gilbert and Sullivan fit words and music together so cleverly? And has the world's seamy underside been so powerfully expressed in music since Brecht-Weill? The evening starts with "Marathon," a fast, infectiously rhythmic number that whirls us through the twentieth century, from the bathtub gin of the '20s to the Depression, from World War II to contemporary space travel. The lyrics evoke several of the evening's primary themes. Brel sings of the dark side of life, of greed, lust, rank smells, human perfidy and the sorrows of aging. But there is tenderness, redemption and giddy pleasure here as well. The musicians are first-rate. The four singers excel individually and harmonize well together. So put on your spats and your high-button shoes: This is everything cabaret should be. Presented by the Theatre Cafe in an open-ended run, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100. Reviewed November 25.
A Lovely Sunday at Creve Coeur. This play contains all the well-known Tennessee Williams motifs -- the allusions to a universal and existential loneliness, the sense that the characters are trapped inside their own skins -- but though these strains add a familiar resonance, the characters haven't stepped from the pages of A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Orpheus Descending. They're broadly drawn comic originals. And they're brought to pitch-perfect life by four of the Denver Center Theatre Company's best actresses. Creve Coeur was written toward the end of Williams's life, in 1978, but it is set during the Depression, when single women had few career choices and lived in constant fear of destitution. Williams was still examining the issues of class that had preoccupied him thirty years earlier in Streetcar -- the presumed vitality of the working class, the increasing irrelevance of educated, upper-class women. However, the working stiff is no longer represented by gorgeous, muscled Stanley Kowalski, but by an offstage character called Buddy, a fat German who likes sausages and beer, as well as by Buddy's equally zaftig sister, Bodey, who bustles about the apartment she shares with schoolteacher Dorothea and plots to bring Buddy and Dorothea together. And there's another basic difference. Stanley was seductive, but he was also a vicious destroyer. Buddy and Bodey are good-hearted; they represent life, maybe even salvation. True, it's a sad, limited kind of salvation, but salvation is nothing to sneer at, particularly during a depression. The work of Williams's last years has often been dismissed as a thin echo of his powerful early plays, yet it's clear from this lovely piece that he continued to develop as an artist. It speaks volumes, too, that his lost and broken characters have discovered that the only way to survive is to take care of each other. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through March 12. The Jones Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 3.
The Syringa Tree. The best thing about this play is the central character who tells most of the story, a six-year-old child named Elizabeth. She's sometimes cute, but she's also smart, bratty and eccentric enough to keep the emotional play from becoming overwhelmingly sentimental. It's through Elizabeth's often uncomprehending eyes that we witness the effects of apartheid on a white family and a group of black servants in South Africa during the '60s. Based on real events in the playwright's life, The Syringa Tree is an evening-length monologue, with one actress -- Karen Slack in this production -- playing not only Elizabeth, but 22 other roles. The play, which won plaudits from New York critics as well as an Obie award, succeeds on raw emotion and also on Elizabeth's wonderful dialogue. But it also has the slightly ragged and unfinished quality of early work. Presented by Alliance Stage through March 13, Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan Street, 303-428-8733. Reviewed March 3.