Young Frankenstein is wraps up its monstrously successful run at the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center on Sunday, and while there are only scattered single seats left, you can still get rush seats: Ten value seats are available for $10 each on a first-come-first-served basis one-hour prior to each curtain time (find out more here). Fortunately, it's raining plays at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, where Much Ado About Nothing opened last weekend. Keep reading for capsule reviews of these productions, as well as two more on local stages.
Detroit. Detroit is intelligent, absorbing, lively, surprising and often evocative. It keeps you on your toes and makes for a good evening of theater. But beyond the entertaining portraits it presents of a pair of neighboring couples – four eccentric, lost people, all floundering in different ways – there isn’t a whole lot of there there. Class issues get evoked, as the title suggests, but they feel extraneous to the central energy, as does all the dialogue about the meaning of community, suburbia and the state of the country. That energy focuses on the characters’ muddled and dream-filled (literally, as several dreams are described) but not very convincing inner lives. Mary and Ben have been living smack in the middle of the middle class: He’s a bank loan officer and she's a paralegal. But Ben has been laid off, and though they still live in their neat suburban home, they can feel the foundations of their life together crumbling. They are entertaining their new neighbors, Sharon and Kenny, recovering addicts who met in a rehab program and are flat broke; their recovery proves as short-lived as you’d expect. Mary’s an addict, too, but her addiction is socially acceptable: She’s an alcoholic. And while Sharon and Kenny improvise their way through life, Mary tries desperately for control. Soon Sharon and Kenny are reciprocating their new friends’ hospitality – except that instead of steaks, Kenny is cooking hamburgers with balls of cheese inside. Much of the meaning in Detroit is communicated through imagery and symbolism, but these devices work more as poetry than as drama. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through June 19, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, curioustheatre.org. Read the complete review here.
Mary Poppins. P.L. Travers created a legendary children’s book about a nanny named Mary Poppins who descends on the stuffy, upper-class Victorian household of the Banks family and proceeds to tame two unruly children and enlighten their parents with discipline, kindness and magic. The 1964 movie based on that book, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, sweetened up the character of Mary Poppins, and Mary Poppins, the musical, softens her up, too. But the latter's script, by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame, does allow for some darker currents – not enough to terrify the little ones, but enough to have them reaching for a soothing parental hand. A group of toys that have been misused by the Banks children comes to angry life. A former nanny who seems to have emerged straight from the bowels of hell arrives threatening to replace sugar with brimstone and treacle. These moments add a touch of bitter to what would otherwise be an overly sweet concoction. There are also notes of a kind of wistful mysticism: When the Bird Lady, sitting on the steps of St. Paul’s, sings “Feed the Birds,” she seems to embody both the encompassing spirit of charity and the very soul of old London itself. The magical production at BDT Stage seems proof that the cliché about an event being “fun for children of all ages” can be absolutely true. I was spellbound by the evening, and at the same time, I could see everything through the eyes of my grandsons, ages five and nine, whom I plan to treat to Mary Poppins later in the summer: the lively musical numbers, the tricks, and the array of peculiar figures they’ll encounter, including balletic statues, tapping chimney sweeps and brightly colored singing and dancing human candies. Presented by BDT Stage through September 5, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder. 303-449-6000, bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Read the full review here.
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Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice loves Benedick and Benedick loves Beatrice, but neither of them knows this elementary fact — which means that their friends have to arrange gulling sessions in which they make sure that Benedick overhears the men discussing Beatrice’s unrequited passion for him and the women do the same for Beatrice. In almost all of Shakespeare’s comedies — even the sunniest — dark and light themes intermingle. Here the sadder undertones are provided by the story of Hero and Claudio, two youngsters in love and as charmingly innocent about it as Beatrice and Benedick are cynical. The villainous Don John convinces Claudio that Hero has been unfaithful, and Claudio renounces her just as their hands are about to be joined in marriage. She falls to the floor, apparently lifeless. Tragedy is averted by robustly comic means, truth prevails, and the lovers are reunited through yet another trick, hatched by Hero’s father, Leonato, who puts out word that Hero has actually died. The celebratory tone of the entire production is delightful. There’s some very strong acting, and all the principals speak Shakespeare’s words with clarity and intelligence. Periodically, a simply inspired moment of comedy occurs – and not necessarily where you expect it. The most exciting performance comes from Vanessa Morosco as Beatrice. She’s sharp and waspish at first, and her verbal duels with Benedick remind you of the venomous battles between Katherine and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. But her emotional palette is varied, and the feelings underlying her anger are touching. So are her joys: You can’t help grinning at her unaffected delight when she learns of Hero’s engagement. But there’s too much comic schtick overall, and the audience is so primed for easy and continual laughter that it ripples out in deadly serious moments, as when Beatrice commands a stunned Benedick to “kill Claudio,” and again when Claudio sees the love he thinks lost forever and murmurs incredulously, “Another Hero.” Which means the play’s crucial balance of dark and light is out of kilter and its music has been muted. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 9, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org. Read the full review here.
Young Frankenstein. Victor von Frankenstein has just died, and the villagers of Transylvania Heights are rejoicing in the removal of his ghoulish presence from their midst. But there’s a grandson, a Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, who teaches at the renowned Johns Miriam and Anthony Hopkins School of Medicine in New York. He’s so ashamed of his family legacy that he insists that his name be pronounced “Fronkensteen,” to distinguish himself from his grandfather. Informed of Victor’s death, however, he bids farewell to his fiancée, Elizabeth — who, just ask her, is an “adorable madcap,” but also intensely touch-averse — and goes to Transylvania to check things out. Here he runs into the hunchback Igor, beautiful villager Inga, and Frau Blücher, his granddad’s onetime squeeze and a woman so sinister that the mere sound of her name sets horses whinnying. When he’s persuaded to resume the work of reanimating the dead, the results are predictably monstrous. This production of Young Frankenstein is a crazy, laugh-filled good time. The star wattage on stage is amazing, the songs are tuneful, the direction — by Nick Sugar — is skilled, confident, precise and free-flowing. The set, costumes and special effects are ingenious, and any production that’s graced by the participation of musical director Donna Kolpan Debreceni and her players is bound to roll along on a buoyant, energizing current of sound. The top ticket price for the 2007 New York production (which the New York Times panned as, among other things, deafeningly loud) was $450, which strikes me as obscene on more levels than I can list here. The top ticket price for this high-spirited, professional quality show — where the sound is at exactly the right volume — is in the low forties. So what are you waiting for? Tickets are going fast. Presented by the Town Hall Arts Center through June 14, 2450 West Main Street, Littleton, 303-794-2787, townhallartscenter.com. Read the full review here.