Chicago. Sort of Brechtian, sort of Cabaretish, Chicago tells a story of injustice and corruption, and tells it in the most seductive way, with witty, memorable songs, elegantly glistening dance sequences and a smart, cynical and grown-up script. Roxie Hart is an evil, self-serving little hoofer. Having murdered a man who tried to walk away from her, she cons sweet dopey husband Amos into coming up with money and enlists the services of reptilian lawyer Billy Flynn. Under Flynn's tutelage, Roxie realizes she can not only escape the hangman (the show is set in the 1920s), but finally, due to the public's fascination with murderesses, become a big star. Just one problem: Velma Kelly is the current hot murderess, and she has no intention of giving up her spot. Joannie Brosseau-Beyette and Alicia Dunfee starred as Roxie and Velma at Boulder's Dinner Theatre seven years ago, and they star again in this revival. They're completely relaxed into their roles, and they also bring a crisp precision to every note and move; their familiarity with the material and each other allows for a wonderful playfulness and exuberance. And there's also A.K. Klimpke reprising the role of reptilian lawyer Billy Flynn, Wayne Kennedy re-creating his sad sack Amos, and a horde of familiar faces in the chorus. But Reynelda Snell brings a whole new energy and interpretation — not to mention a rich, strong voice — to the key role of prison matron "Mama" Morton. The orchestra is note-perfect, Dunfee's Bob Fosse-influenced choreography thrums with energy, and there's so much sheer exuberance on the stage that you find yourself sorry when the evening ends. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through May 9, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed March 4.
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 May 2, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18, 2008.
The House of Yes. A smart, sharp black comedy with some uneasy currents creeping beneath the surface, The House of Yes is an excellent pick for Equinox, a new company that produced three theater pieces last year largely under the radar and is now looking for greater visibility. The year is 1983, and as the play opens, we meet an upper-crust Washington, D.C., family who once lived next door to the Kennedys and remains obsessed by them. The father left the household on the day Jack Kennedy was assassinated — or perhaps, as the mother later suggests, there's a more sinister reason for his disappearance. The daughter, who calls herself Jackie O, is waiting with her younger brother, Anthony, for the arrival of her twin, Marty, and his girlfriend. It doesn't take long for us to realize that Jackie O and Marty have a longstanding incestuous relationship. Also that Marty's girlfriend, Lesly, isn't exactly welcome in the house. Not by Jackie O and her weirdly protective mother, anyway, although out-of-it little brother Anthony will come to find Lesly's warm normalcy very appealing. The performances are all good — and a few are better than good. With The House of Yes, Equinox has announced its presence with style. Presented by Equinox Theatre Company through March 27, Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, 720-984-0781, www.equinoxtheatredenver.com. Reviewed March 11.
Opus. Michael Hollinger knows exactly what he's writing about with Opus, his play about the fictive Lazara Quartet, and his love of music and intimate understanding of musicianship give this piece radiant life. As the play opens, Grace, a young woman fresh out of the conservatory, is auditioning to be the group violist. She is unaware that Lazara has been commissioned to perform at the White House in the very near future, and also that the group is in a dangerous state of flux. Although all decisions are supposedly reached consensually, first violinist Elliot is a dominant and manipulative figure. The violist for whose job Grace is auditioning is Dorian, Elliot's longtime lover, a brilliant musician whom Elliot has recently fired. Alan is the quizzical peacemaker of the group, and cellist Carl is a solid, good-natured family man who is now facing a health crisis. The dialogue feels right and true, the rhythms are perfect and the acting is strong. The only thing that doesn't work is the splutter of over-dramatic plot points that conclude the play and seem at odds with its core exploration of the creative process. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through April 24, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org. Reviewed March 11.