Annie. Boulder's Dinner Theatre is at the top of its form; it has to be. How else could the company make Annie — its mandatory summer family show — anything but a smirking sentimental bore? As everyone knows by now, the story of Annie concerns a little red-haired girl's rough life at an orphanage run by the vicious Miss Hannigan. Annie gets away; adopts stray-dog Sandy; is invited into the mansion of Daddy Warbucks, a war profiteer with a heart of gold; helps FDR conceive of the New Deal (by singing to him about "Tomorrow"); rescues her fellow orphans; and is happily adopted by Warbucks, who — no doubt thanks in part to Annie's heart-melting qualities — has begun to realize his feelings for his comely secretary, Grace. The acting at BDT is uniformly appealing, and as the proceedings rollick along, you start to notice how satisfying all the production values are, from Neal Dunfee's sweet, slick orchestra to Alicia Dunfee's choreography; from Linda Morken's meticulous costumes to Amy Campion's clever, three-turnstile set, on which we first see the city skyline, and then, as the turnstiles revolve, a group of homeless people sharing food in a Hooverville, Miss Hannigan's study, a street scene, and Daddy Warbucks's opulent mansion with its platoon of happily singing servants. The adult acting is uniformly fine, and the production also features a big, wambling beauty of a labradoodle and lots of kids — very cute kids, but not cute in that annoyingly self-conscious Hollywood way. Kids so full of wiggling, bumptious energy that you have to wonder just how director Scott Beyette managed to focus it into the joyous yet highly disciplined performances they all put out. The pleasures of this production take you to that silly, giggling, helium-filled and multi-colored place that we all need to visit more often. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 5, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed June 25.
Girls Only. The trouble with Girls Only, a two-woman evening of conversation, skits, singing, improvisation and audience participation, is that it's so relentlessly nice. Creator-performers Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein have worked together for many years; at some point, they read their early diaries to each other and were transfixed by the similarities and differences they found in them, as well as the insights they gained into their own psyches and the travails of puberty. This theater piece was developed from that material — but not all of that material. "I purposely don't read every diary entry in the show, because it turns out I was kind of mean, and I don't want to be mean," Klein told an interviewer. But mean is funny, and when you cut it out entirely, what do you have to joke about? Girly pink bedrooms, purses, bras, skinny models in glossy magazines. Every time they tell a story with the tiniest bite to it, Gehring and Klein — both talented and appealing stage performers — move instantly to reassure us that they don't mean it. At one point Klein relates an interesting tale about how she came to possess the badly taxidermied body of an electrocuted squirrel as a child; the minute she's completed this funny, freaky moment in an otherwise highly predictable evening, she gives a pouty, don't-get-me-wrong grin and sweetly caresses the squirrel's head. There's enough good material here for a tight, funny, one-hour-long show, but this one stretches on and on, as if Klein and Gehring had been determined to throw every single joke and piece of shtick that occurred to them in the script. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through August, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18.
Hamlet. Hamlet really is a narcissistic ass. I'm not talking about his famous, almost-play-long dithering about whether or not he should kill the uncle who murdered his father and married his mother. I'm talking about the fact that he destroys Ophelia; kills her father and then makes ugly jokes about the body; sends two university chums to their deaths on very ambiguous evidence that they've betrayed him; interrupts Ophelia's burial to rant about how much more he loved her than did her brother, Laertes; and expresses utter bewilderment at Laertes's subsequent anger. In most productions, this essential nastiness is obscured by Hamlet's wit, energy and brilliance. It is prominent in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's Hamlet because Stephen Weitz gives the prince a stronger and more forceful persona than usual. His Hamlet is less melancholy and poetic and far more a man of action, and as a result, you tend to think of him as also more responsible for the havoc he creates. Weitz is a striking figure, really good with the funny, ironic dialogue and able to deliver most of the famous monologues and speeches with a power and clarity that make them live. But there are also a number of miscastings and missteps, and the production gets progressively less interesting as it rises toward its climax. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 9, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, www.coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 9.
Man of La Mancha. PHAMALY's production of Man of La Mancha is a triumph, and not just because all the performers are so good that after a while their handicaps become invisible. It's because everyone involved — actors, director Steve Wilson, set and costume designers, choreographers and musical director Donna Debrecini — understands the artistic possibilities of the human body, damaged or not. They know how to ignore or minimize a physical problem, and where such problems can actually be used to add drama or authenticity. A very fine musical no matter the cast, Man of La Mancha is the story of writer-adventurer Cervantes and his middle-aged, delusional would-be knight Don Quixote. It's a story within a story, in which the edge between fantasy and reality blurs again and again. With its message of hope and clear-eyed recognition of the grim realities that continually undercut hope, it's also a perfect vehicle for PHAMALY, a company whose members all have illnesses or disabilities. The two principal actors give the performances of a lifetime: Leonard Barrett's star quality is on full display as Cervantes/Don Quixote, and as Aldonza, Regan Linton matches him moment by moment with a blazing, incandescent fire. PHAMALY is always good, but at its best – as it is here – the company is a revelation, a living demonstration of how the human spirit can transcend physical limitation. Presented by PHAMALY through August 16, Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.phamaly.org. Reviewed July 30.
Old Times. Harold Pinter's Old Times can't really be understood in any logical way. It's a three-person fugue with strong currents of sexual rivalry. At the beginning, Deeley and Kate, a married couple, are awaiting the arrival of Kate's old friend Anna - who is actually on stage with them, her back to the audience. No sooner has Anna arrived than she and Deeley begin dueling over Kate, even engaging in a rivalrous songfest, a medley of old tunes that range from "They Can't Take That Away From Me" to "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Words, and the memories words shape, are the ammunition in this duel, and reality - along with space and time - is infinitely pliable. Kate remembers that Anna used to steal her underpants; Anna says Kate liked her to borrow them. Deeley says he first met Kate at the movie Odd Man Out – she was the only other person in the cinema - but Anna explains later that she and Kate saw Odd Man Out together. This is a good production, buoyed by strong performances, though the interpretation is more realistic than metaphysical. Which means that instead of being mesmerized by Harold Pinter's rhythms – and that constant sense that meaning is moving beneath the words rather than shaping them — you find yourself wondering periodically why, if these are regular people, they are acting so weird. Presented by Paragon Theater through August 15, Crossroads Theater, 2590 Washington Street, 303-300-2210, www.paragontheatre.org. Reviewed July 30.