Theater

Now Playing: This Week's Theater Options

Charles Ives Take Me Home. There are only three characters in Charles Ives Take Me Home, now receiving its regional premiere at Curious Theatre Company, but you hear more than three voices. And while the plot can be explained in a few words, there are many levels of meaning within it. John Starr, a professional violinist who never got along with his sports-obsessed father, finds himself the father of a dedicated jock: Laura, a talented young basketball player, who eventually becomes a high-school coach. The third character is the spirit of Charles Ives, the turn-of-the-century composer thought of as the father of contemporary music and known for his use of dissonance and ability to bring differing styles and forms together. The two other characters — and they're almost as palpable as the flesh-and-blood actors — are basketball and music itself. When John picks up the violin, it comes alive. And Laura's thumping ball provides much of the play's rhythm and focus. Throughout, you get a sense of the playwright, Jessica Dickey, struggling to express some of the deepest truths of human existence: truths about art and sport, life and death, music and silence. Since these things cannot be articulated, she communicates them through the pure, clear sounds of the violin, the sound of the ball and Laura's take-no-prisoners approach to coaching. The direction is subtle and gutsy, and the cast — Dave Belden as John, Kate Berry as Laura and Jim Hunt as Ives — is first-rate. A beautiful play, beautifully performed. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through February 14, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, curioustheatre.org. Reviewed January 15.

Fiddler on the Roof. This production of Fiddler on the Roofdoes full justice to Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's brilliant songs, tells the evocative story with clarity and feeling, and also — uniquely — sounds the musical's deeper, darker chords. The action is set in a rural Russian Jewish community whose members can be quarrelsome and petty or generous and helpful, but always unified by timeless bonds of ritual and tradition. At the center of the community is Tevye, a poor milkman struggling to survive and with five daughters to worry about. His worries come to a head when the three eldest daughters, each in turn, defy his patriarchal authority: Instead of submitting to the manipulations of matchmaker Yente, Tzeitel chooses the tailor Motel and only then asks her father's permission; Hodel falls in love with radical Marxist Perchik and prepares to follow him wherever his revolutionary work leads; and, worst of all, Chava marries outside the faith, choosing a Russian soldier. A lot of Tevyes come across like Jewish Santa Clauses, but Wayne Kennedy's version is a different animal entirely. He gives the comedy its due but lets us see the profound sadness beneath the jovial exterior — and something more. This man is loving to his children, generous to the stranger — as Jews are historically required to be — and jokey and argumentative with God. But there are deep currents of rage coursing through his veins as he contemplates the loss of everything he's cherished, including his little bird, his daughter Chava. The entire cast is strong and conveys a sense of authenticity and respect for Jewish history, and the menace humming beneath the action reminds us of the real dangers of the pogroms. Presented by BDT Stage (formerly Boulder's Dinner Theatre) through February 28 at 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder; for information, call 303-449-6000 or go to bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed December 4.

Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking. The Broadway musical is a big, bloated, conventional, endlessly copycatting phenomenon that cries out to be skewered, and Forbidden Broadway — in various incarnations — has been busily skewering it for over three decades. Despite this, Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking never feels packaged. Starring four of our brightest local talents, it's fresh, alive, and very, very funny. The roster of parodies takes in everything fromLes Misérablesthrough the Disney churn-outs to the serious, soulful Once, and the show manages to be savage without losing its good humor. If you hate the musical in question, you'll find the parody hilarious; the same is true if you love/hate it; and there's a subversive thrill in seeing even work you genuinely admire skillfully satirized. A couple of numbers miss, however. The Book of Mormon had to be in the mix, given its phenomenal success, but the song in which Trey Parker and Matt Stone exult in their own cleverness and wealth isn't nearly as funny as the musical itself. Still, most of the parodies sting beautifully. "On My Phone," sung by a bored Eponine texting away backstage in Les Mis, is a comedic gem. Then there's the jealousy duet between Chita Rivera, the first Anita in West Side Story, and Rita Moreno, who played the role in the movie, sung to the tune of "America." And no matter how often Wickedgets satirized, you can't prick that hot-air-filled balloon often enough. This show requires a lot of talent, and the performers have it in spades: splendid voices, clear enunciation (essential), charm and fearless comic chops. It all adds up to one of the brightest, sharpest, most entertaining evenings around. Presented by the Garner Galleria Theatre through March 1, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org. Reviewed December 25.

Miss Saigon. The plot of Miss Saigon is based on the opera Madame Butterfly, in which an American soldier takes a Japanese woman as a geisha wife — a temporary arrangement common during the early twentieth century — and then deserts her. Here it's Chris, a U.S. Marine falling in love with a seventeen-year-old Vietnamese girl and — in the midst of war and carnage — delighting in her gentle innocence. He is separated from her through no fault of his own and, once home, he eventually marries. But Kim still considers herself his wife, and she has some reason: After his departure, she gave birth to their child. I was intrigued to see Miss Saigon in a smaller venue, staged by a company that doesn't have tens of thousands of dollars for whiz-bang special effects. I had hoped the intimate setting would reveal subtle riches. But though the staging, including the helicopter scene, is ingenious, no one seems to have communicated the idea of intimacy to the music director or the sound designer — because the sound levels are excruciatingly loud. Rob Riney, who plays Chris, and Regina Fernandez Steffen, who plays Kim, have good voices; I know this because of their singing in the soft opening moments of their songs. But no sooner are those songs fully launched than the orchestra surges and the badly overmiked voices become distorted, ugly and assaultive. There are some high points: Keegan Flaugh, playing Chris's friend John, makes a very convincing Marine (which apparently he was) and has a fine voice. And Arlene Rapal is terrific as the cunning, profiteering pimp of an Engineer, coming across as a sort of mash-up of the Old Lady of Leonard Bernstein's Candide, who survived no matter how much trouble she found herself in; the salacious Emcee in Cabaret; and Brecht's titular heartless proto-capitalist in Mother Courage. There's also a nice performance from Abby McInerny as Chris's American wife, Ellen, and an exciting display of martial arts from Hao Liu. Presented by Vintage Theatre through February 1, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, vintagetheatre.org, 303-856-7830. Reviewed December 25.

Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone. When two Buntporters spotted tough-guy movie star Tommy Lee Jones standing in line at the Santa Fe Opera to buy tickets for La Bohème, it got their speculative juices going. The result is a brilliantly original piece of theater called Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone, with a large puppet Tommy Lee Jones at its center. The puppet is around five feet tall, pale and thin-limbed, with imposing eyebrows and large, highly articulated hands, courtesy of Denver puzzle-box master Kagen Schaefer (robotics teacher Corey Milner helped rig those hands for action). But if the hands are eloquent, the mouth is permanently shut tight. Four actors, all wearing black suits and masks, provide the animation: Brian Colonna works the head, Evan Weissman and Erin Rollman the tricky hands, and, sitting almost completely still, his features obscured, Eric Edborg serves as the puppet's voice. The action is set in a coffee shop where Tommy Lee comes regularly for coffee and pie. He has a longstanding teasing and affectionate relationship with waitress Jane — Hannah Duggan, the only troupe member who gets to be an actual, freestanding human being. Jones wants to talk to us, the audience, and he has a lot to talk about: cowboy boots, movies, his background, how human speech evolved (and the price we paid for it) and, of course, opera — the grandest use to which those evolved voices can be put. He explains that the melodies of many popular songs come from opera, and shows that opera belongs to everyone. One of Buntport's best — and that's saying a lot. Presented by Buntport Theater through January 31, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, buntport.com.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman