Shrek: The Musical.There are a lot of things to like about Shrek: The Musical at Boulder's Dinner Theatre. They include the Dragon, created by Cory Gilstrap and manipulated by a handful of actors. Blessed with the rich, seductive voice of the inimitable Amanda Earls, she's a riveting, literally huge presence. And there are many other spectacular special effects. All the leads are excellent. Even as written, Fiona is no regular fairy-tale princess: Not many princesses would fall for a smelly, hulking guy with horns and a nasty green face. But Norrell Moore takes the role several steps beyond whatever the script requires, endowing Fiona with huge amounts of spring, cheek and sheer verve. Seth Caikowski plays Shrek with a pleasantly slight Scottish accent, and the kindness and diffidence he projects provide a fine contrast with all the cavorting going on around him. In his furry gray Donkey suit, Tyrell Rae is the perfect foil, preening, whining and strutting. Trapped on his knees, his lank black hair falling around his face, Scott Severtson has loads of evil fun as Lord Farquaad. The script is by Pulitzer winner David Lindsay-Abaire, which means that Shrek is way less dumb than the average Disney musical and full of clever, silly references; a couple of moments are downright Monty Python-esque. Though the songs tend to be mediocre — the requisite end-of-the-show uplift is provided by the Monkees' ancient "I'm a Believer," which seems a sad confession of composer Jeanine Tesori's deficiencies — they're delivered with such verve it almost doesn't matter, and the entire production is a delight. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 6, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder. 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed May 29.
Venus in Fur. The setting is the kind of rehearsal room every performer is familiar with: dusty and relatively bare, the windows grimy and patched over, an ancient fan rotating overhead. Slap-bang in the middle, though, there's a red velvet divan. Subtle shifts of light change the feel of the place periodically; it goes from being innocuous to feeling like those underground dungeons that leach the souls from human beings. Thomas is the author of a play called — like this play we're seeing — Venus in Fur, based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's nineteenth-century erotic novel, Venus in Furs. He wants to direct it himself because — irony of ironies — he requires control over his material. It's the end of the day, and he's on the phone to his fiancée describing the actors who have auditioned for the key role of Wanda with cool disdain. Enter Vanda — and the name's similarity to his character's is no coincidence. She flies in holding a broken umbrella and reciting a litany of complaints. She knows she's late, she says, but please, please let her audition. Thomas has no interest in her, but she's very persistent, and after a while, they start reading the play together. Now Vanda's demeanor changes and her accent becomes refined. Although she claims only to have glanced at the script on her way over, it's soon evident she knows it well and has also read the original novel. You know where this is going. Vanda is going to dominate Thomas physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, artistically. The only question is how she's going to do it. And why. At times Vanda seems to be a feminist who sees the play as an insult to all women. She's also incensed about the routine power struggle between directors and actors, particularly female actors. But maybe there's something stranger — maybe even something metaphysical — going on. Venus in Fur has been praised for its many levels of meaning, the constant shifts between reality and unreality. But the action gets repetitive after a while. You keep waiting for something that will change the trajectory — a reversal, a refutation, a shock or surprise — but it never comes. And despite all the talk of whipping and boot kissing, there isn't anything erotic — or even very human — about the evening. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through June 14, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, curioustheatre.org. Reviewed May 15.