Hello, Dolly! You're looking for a warm, lively, music-filled, sweetly sentimental holiday season show — but you've had it up to here with Santas and Tiny Tims, as well as not-so-funny take-offs on Santas and Tiny Tims. Say hello to Hello, Dolly!, an old warhorse finding new life at Boulder's Dinner Theatre. The musical tells the story of a meddlesome widow, Dolly Levi, who makes a living connecting people. Ostensibly trying to find a wife for half-millionaire feed-store owner Horace Vandergelder, she's actually plotting to snare him for herself. First, though, she has to not only overcome his doubts, but free herself from the memory of her beloved dead husband, Ephraim. The plot — absurd, episodic, dated in parts — is really only a pretext for songs, dances and comic scenes, but the dialogue still has snap, and the songs are seductive. "It Takes a Woman" is a funny sendup of '50s marital expectations: "It takes a woman all powdered and pink/To joyously clean out the drain in the sink/And it takes an angel with long golden lashes/And soft Dresden fingers for dumping the ashes"; "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" is one of those joyous showstoppers that get your heart racing; "Dancing" starts as a comic dance lesson and ends with a horde of people swirling exhilaratingly across the stage; and "Before the Parade Passes By" is not only exhilarating, but touching, too. It's hard to imagine a more perfect Dolly than Alicia Dunfee, who imbues the role with warmth and charm, sings movingly, and brings depth and dignity to her soliloquies with her dead husband. Another terrific performance comes from Tracy Warren, who has a pure, beautifully modulated singing voice and loads of appeal as hatmaker Irene Malloy. The direction and choreography (the latter by Dunfee and Matthew D. Peters) are clean and tight. They meld together the disparate levels of talent on stage and give the performers a solid base from which to cut loose and enjoy themselves. Which they do — filling us with pleasure in the process. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through February 26, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed December 2.
Map of Heaven. Playwright Michele Lowe writes well about art, and the central character in her Map of Heaven is an artist, Lena, whose paintings are maps of imaginary places and who is about to have her first big show. As the play opens, she's in her studio with longtime dealer and gallery owner Rebecca, discussing which pieces to display. But while Lena's career is on the upswing, her radiologist husband is tiring of his profession. Once so dedicated that he moved heaven and earth to open a clinic for poor women, he's now spending less and less time at his work and more and more time flying — an occupation for which he's developed a passion — and he's hoping that Lena will find a level of recognition that allows him to quit being a doctor. Ian's sister, Jen, is also on a downward trajectory professionally. She's waitressing for a living, despite having once been a lawyer. The first major twist in the action is a little hard to swallow, and the second really strains faith; the characters begin feeling less like people and more like ciphers pressed into the service of a less-than-plausible plot. Still, under the direction of Evan Cabnet, the acting and the production values are so good that you almost believe. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 26, Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed January 27.
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Kent Thompson's production at the Denver Center makes Shakespeare's play fresh and new again. Themes beyond the obvious begin to emerge. Yes, the story tells us that love is dreamlike and illogical, but I hadn't thought much before about the different kinds of love it depicts: the power balance between Theseus and the conquered Hippolyta, for instance; the fact that Oberon and Titania can squabble all they like, but anyone can tell how absolutely married they are. Of course, the young lovers are just as deluded and silly as you'd expect. From top to bottom, this is a superb cast. Keith Hamilton Cobb's kindly, powerful Theseus is well-matched by Tamara Hoffman's Hippolyta. As Oberon and Titania, John Hutton and Kathleen McCall perfectly walk the tightrope between ethereal and earthy, with McCall becoming positively lewd once she's fallen for the donkey-headed Bottom. Drew Cortese and Leigh Nichols Miller are charming as Demetrius and Lysander, respectively; Caitlin Wise is a cute little clown as Hermia; and Allison Pistorius's Helena is a revelation, beautiful and plain, goony and sweet. All four are insanely slapsticky, but also real people with real feelings. Lawrence Hecht makes the irrepressible Bottom as sympathetic as he is funny, and the menials, led by Sam Gregory's Quince, are all so good that I found myself laughing whenever they entered. All of these actors understand the text to their bones, which means they can cut up all over the place while still doing justice to the words' meaning and the play's transcendent poetry. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through February 26. Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100,www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed February 17.