Denver seethes with theatrical talent, even if local companies are often in flux. The biggest, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company, has long been a linchpin, but Kent Thompson, artistic director for the last decade, left in March, and the company is still searching for a new artistic director, so its future direction is unclear. Meanwhile, the small but mighty Edge Theater Company is taking a break after two spring productions next season. Still smaller companies stake out their places, often do brilliant work, then vanish or transform as actors and directors form new alliances and find new stages. Somehow everything comes together in a slew of fascinating, can’t-miss prospects over the next four months, offering a wealth of choices, from world premieres to classic favorites, small and nimble productions to the grand behemoth Hamilton. Here are ten shows to watch for, in chronological order.
Edgar Allan Poe Is Dead and So Is My Cat
Through November 19
Every Buntport Theater Company production has been a world premiere, a completely original piece written and acted by the five members of this extraordinarily talented company, performed in a onetime warehouse that has been transformed and reconfigured time and again over the sixteen years of Buntport’s existence. Edgar Allen Poe Is Dead and So Is My Cat is silly, but it's Buntport silly, which means it's funny, nimble, literate, deep in an unpretentious and weirdly unexpected way. And the acting will knock your socks off. If you haven’t yet experienced Buntport, now’s the time to do it. If you have — well, you know what to do. Buntport is at 717 Lipan Street; tickets range from $15 to $20 at 720-946-1388 or buntport.com.
November 24 through December 23
Hi-Hat Hattie is a one-woman play that tells the story of Hattie McDaniel, who voiced Aunt Jemima and was the first black actor to win an Oscar, for her role in Gone With the Wind — though she wasn’t allowed to enter the theater for the movie’s premiere in Atlanta. In the play, Hattie, who was born in Denver, has returned to this city’s Orpheum Theater and is sorting through her memories. The script touches on significant issues, including the lack of movie roles for African-Americans and the withering attacks by Walter White, head of the NAACP in the 1940s, not only on the way black people were portrayed in Hollywood, but on the actors hired for these portrayals — actors who had taken the only jobs open to them, including Hattie McDaniel. Despite these moments of seriousness, Hi-Hat Hattie has a slight and sentimental script, but it’s redeemed by wonderful songs such as “Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine,” “Danny Boy” and “St. Louis Blues.” The songs will be delivered by Anna High, whose rich, beautiful voice lit up a recent Fox production of Porgy and Bess and made a brassy show-stopping contribution to BDT Stage’s exuberant Disenchanted. At the Aurora Fox, 9900 East Colfax Avenue in Aurora; tickets are $18-$37 at 303-739-1970 or aurorafox.org.
A Christmas Carol
November 24 through December 24
Almost every theater company in town is doing some kind of Christmas special. Most of them assume we’re sick of the traditional Hallmark Card version and craving humor and satire, but every year the DCPA Theatre Company stages a traditional Christmas Carol with gorgeous costumes, sets that could come straight out of a Victorian Christmas card, and special effects that’ll set your head spinning, from a terrifying ghost of Jacob Marley to a fall of snowflakes over the audience that has children turning up their faces in sheer wonder. There’s even nuance: Director Melissa Rain Anderson shows the darker side of Charles Dickens’s Christmas fable while also underlining the writer’s focus on kindness and compassion. Sam Gregory begins the evening as one of the nastiest Scrooges you can imagine — which makes his transformation particularly touching. Yes, you think, hard hearts can really crack open and admit compassion. In the Stage Theatre at the Denver Performing Arts Complex; tickets start at $35. For more information, call 303-893-4100 or go to denvercenter.org.
December 1 through December 31
You never know quite what to expect at Edge, a dedicated small company that stages plays by such well-known names as Edward Albee and such utter unknowns as Moira Buffini, who wrote the wonderfully smart and nasty Dinner, as well as risky fare like The Nance, about an odd chapter of gay history in this country, and safe audience-pleasers like Misery, based on Stephen King’s bestseller. All of this is done with guts and integrity. The Edge has supported local playwrights with an annual contest throughout its six-year history, but this year’s offering is a commission for fine author-actor-director Josh Hartwell. His Resolutions will be a world premiere; we don't know much more, but it deals with ringing in the new year and has a fabulous cast — and that’s enough for us. The Edge Theater Company is located at 1560 Teller Street in Lakewood. Tickets are $30 at 303-232-0363 or theedgetheater.com.
January 13 through February 24
In Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit ’67, the personal and the political are intertwined. Lank and Chelle, brother and sister, create an after-hours club in their basement to capitalize on the popularity of Motown. While the music throbs, rioters fill the streets outside, and when Lank and a friend find a badly beaten white woman on the sidewalk, they take her to the basement for tending, afraid of what would happen if the two of them — both black men — arrived with her at a hospital. Under the leadership of founder and artistic director Chip Walton, Curious Theatre Company has become known for thoughtful drama, often dealing with issues of social justice, and equally renowned for excellent productions, inspired tech and terrific performances. With Jada Suzanne Dixon and Cajardo Lindsay starring, Detroit ’67 should be a major event. Curious is located at 1080 Acoma Street; for tickets, call 303-623-0524 or go to curioustheatre.org.
Zoey’s Perfect Wedding
January 19 through February 25
You can’t overstate the versatility of playwright Matthew Lopez. We saw The Whipping Man, his Broadway debut, at Curious in January 2014; the searing and highly original post-Civil War drama raises profound and resonant issues. That same month, The Legend of Georgia McBride had its world premiere at the DCPA Theatre Company, and it turned out to be a silly, frothy, sequin-studded drag-show-cum-play that went on to some national success. So what can we expect from the Theatre Company's Zoey’s Perfect Wedding? About a wedding in which everything from planning to drunken toasts goes wrong, it sounds like a distillation of Bridesmaids and Father of the Bride with television’s (guiltily addictive) Bridezillas thrown in. But this is Lopez, so there’s no point speculating; just know it will intrigue. At the Space Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex; tickets start at $30. For more information, call 303-893-4100 or go to denvercenter.org.
Guards at the Taj
January 25 through February 18
Rajiv Joseph, author of the Pulitzer finalist Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (which showed at the Edge four years ago), is one of the most interesting and original playwrights around, and the Boulder Ensemble is one of the better local theater companies — all of which makes Guards at the Taj a must-see. Set in the seventeenth century, the play features two men set to guard the hitherto hidden Taj Mahal, which was built as an homage to the shah. Through the long night, they are forbidden to turn around and look at it; in the morning, the building will be revealed to everyone in all its magnificence. A dark comedy that descends into horror, the play talks about power and powerlessness, beauty and terror. At the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut Street in Boulder. Tickets are $20 to $36.50 at 303-351-2382 or betc.org.
January 26 through March 4
Under Len Matheo’s guidance, Miners Alley has been getting more and more adventurous in its choice of material, and Fun Home, which won five Tony awards, including Best Musical, should open new and exciting territory. Based on Alison Bechdel’s highly successful graphic memoir, the show was adapted by playwright Lisa Kron, whom we’ve been hoping to see more of since her low-key but emotionally powerful play, Well, showed at the Denver Center ages ago, and composer Jeanine Tesori, whose work includes Caroline, Or Change and Shrek. It's the first mainstream musical to feature a lesbian protagonist, and the creators’ examination of the ambiguities of growing up sound cliché-free, fresh and original. Miners Alley is at 1224 Washington Avenue in Golden; ticket prices are not yet listed. For more information, go to 303-935-3044 or minersalley.com.
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The Electric Baby
February 9 through May 4
The Arvada Center Black Box Theatre, founded a year ago and helmed by artistic director Lynne Collins, is the closest thing we have to a repertory company in the area; it employs a talented cadre of actors and mounts professional productions using the Arvada Center’s rich array of technical resources. The lineup of plays has varied from well-worn and familiar to adventurous, and the magic realism that animates Stefanie Zadravec’s The Electric Baby places it well on the adventurous side of the scale. Listed as “a folktale for adults,” it deals with the interconnections among its six immigrant characters. The cast sounds amazing, and we can’t wait to experience the magic. At the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard; previews are $25, and regular tickets start at $45. Find out more at 720-898-7200 or go to arvadacenter.org.
February 27 through April 1
The national tour of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s megahit Hamilton, based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, is finally coming to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Critics say the score, a mix of blues, hip-hop, rap and Broadway, breaks entirely new ground for the musical genre — make way, Stephen Sondheim. These critics also insist that, yes, it’s every bit as good as the hype, which means it’s massively, insanely, indescribably good. Set for the Buell in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, every show will no doubt sell out — even though tickets range from a few hundred dollars for far-back seats at matinees to over $2,000 for the best viewing. They'll go on sale at the beginning of the year; go to denvercenter.org/Hamilton for updates.