Dietrich & Chevalier. The Marlene Dietrich and Maurice Chevalier we all remember were artificial figures, carefully lit, costumed and photographed, their media images manipulated and protected. They were stunning in their glamour and originality, but meant entirely for the screen. For his play, Dietrich and Chevalier, Jerry Mayer has unearthed some interesting biographical data on the two stars, all of it apparently authentic, but he hasn't brought them alive. The two met in 1932 and, despite the fact that both were married, began an affair. World War II upended their lives, and although the Chevalier-Dietrich affair soon flamed out, they remained friends for life. Mayer's cardboard script never humanizes these interesting figures, however. Dietrich was a great artist and an interesting woman with a fine, self-mocking sense of humor — but she was also a troublemaking, go-to-hell narcissist with a fondness for drink and drugs. What fun it would have been to see the pair of them without their masks, to track the concessions and demands, fights and softenings, genuine tenderness and canny manipulation that must have existed when these two mighty egos encountered each other. Paul Page and Mari Carlin Dart can't breathe warmth and empathy into Mayer's stick figures, but they can and do perform the numbers with energy, charm and a fair amount of verisimilitude: "Isn't It Romantic?" "Naughty Lola," "You're the Cream in My Coffee," "Lili Marlene," "Falling in Love Again." It's a big plus that the indomitable and lively spirited Donna Koplan Debreceni is at the piano. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through June 19, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, www.minersalley.com. Reviewed June 10.
Jugged Rabbit Stew. For this original musical, the Buntport Theater crew took an absurd idea and then — instead of playing around a bit, giggling and letting it go — decided to carry it forward, step by step, to the logical and intensely illogical ending. Under the sunnily innocent surface of Jugged Rabbit Stew is a darker underlay, an underlay involving blood, dismemberment, the way humanity destroys its gods, predation and carnivorousness — which takes on a whole new dimension when the meat in question not only walks and talks like a man, but can perform astounding feats of magic. All of this is pounded home by Adam Stone's inspired rock songs. The plot concerns Snowball, a giant rabbit who works with a magician called Alec the Amazing and All-Powerful. At his best, Alec can pull off only the simplest sleights of hand; Snowball is the genuine magical power behind the act. This bunny is anything but sweet and fluffy, however. He's a miserable, scruffy creature who likes making others unhappy. He steals. He has confiscated the legs of magician's assistant Mystical Marla, replacing them with those of a middle-aged workman. He took away Alec's right arm. He also kidnapped Woman, a regular audience member he loved until he spotted her in the company of another rabbit. The production underlines its own artificiality, satirizing magic shows and theatrical conventions in general and examining the ways we use language to create story and propel action, with Woman at one point discussing with Snowball whether he's the classical noble-but-with-a-fatal-flaw tragic hero, the moody, romantic Byronic hero, or a twentieth-century anti-hero. One of the deepest, weirdest, funniest and most assured shows Buntport has ever done. Presented by Buntport Theater through June 19, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, www.buntport.com. Reviewed May 20.
Peter Pan. The folks at Boulder's Dinner Theatre approach Peter Pan with such imagination, intelligence, respect and — above all — giddy exuberance that you can't help enjoying yourself. Little boys are sure to love Captain Hook and the ferocious crocodile with the clock ticking away inside him. And how could any little girl resist the idea of flying off into the night in search of adventure with a white-nightgowned Wendy, and being so loved and needed by the Lost Boys? Not to mention Nana, the fluffy white dog who serves as the children's caretaker. The only drawback is the depiction of Native Americans, who are shown as pure 1950s Disney figures, wearing long black wigs and fringed costumes, drumming, stomping, chanting and singing a ghastly song called "Ugh-a-Wug." Still, there are loads of good things about the production, and J.M. Barrie's words still cast a spell. Director Scott Beyette and his actors even respect the story's darker overtones: Captain Hook may be a pussycat and the battles staged to be comic, but the story's psychological ambiguities seep through. As played by Joanie Brosseau-Beyette, Peter Pan is a tough little customer who can wreak havoc if he wants, and who has very little loyalty or conscience. This is offset by Brosseau-Beyette's cheekiness and charm, as well as her terrific singing voice. Best of all is the flying. It doesn't matter that you know it's coming; it doesn't matter that you can see the lines attached to the actors' backs. When Peter Pan rises into the air and Wendy, John and Michael follow — startled, kicking and laughing — it's pure magic. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 4, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdunnertheatre.com. Reviewed June 3.