The summer theater season is winding down, with both The Odd Couple — The Female Version and Pump Boys and Dinettes closing this weekend. Keep reading for capsule reviews of those shows, as well as Mary Poppins, which will run until September in Boulder.
The Odd Couple—The Female Version. Oscar has morphed into Olive and Felix into Florence in The Odd Couple — The Female Version, Neil Simon’s 1980s take on his 1960s hit play, The Odd Couple, which morphed into a movie with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau and then a sitcom featuring Jack Klugman and the inimitable Tony Randall. This show has many of the strengths and weaknesses of its older brother: It’s lively and funny, and the dialogue, while sometimes flat or out-and-out silly, is often very clever. There are a few other good reasons to see this production. One is that it takes place in the lobby of the Barth Hotel, one of fourteen residences around the state run by the nonprofit Senior Housing Options for elderly, disabled and impoverished people. These summer plays serve as the organization’s primary fundraisers: Last year’s paid for computers to aid residents’ tech literacy; the 2015 proceeds will help fund a bus to transport them to various enriching and enjoyable activities. The Barth, with its patina of age and elegance, is also a fine place to see theater – the work is professional quality, but there’s also a groundedness and lack of pretension here, occasionally emphasized by a resident wandering through the action on the way to the elevator. Through August 22 at the Barth Hotel, 1514 17th Street, 303-595-4464, ext. 10, seniorhousingoptions.org. Read the full review here.
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Mary Poppins. P.L. Travers created a legendary children’s book about a nanny named Mary Poppins who descends on the stuffy, upper-class Victorian household of the Banks family and proceeds to tame two unruly children and enlighten their parents with discipline, kindness and magic. The 1964 movie based on that book, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, sweetened up the character of Mary Poppins, and Mary Poppins, the musical, softens her up, too. But the latter's script, by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame, does allow for some darker currents – not enough to terrify the little ones, but enough to have them reaching for a soothing parental hand. A group of toys that have been misused by the Banks children comes to angry life. A former nanny who seems to have emerged straight from the bowels of hell arrives threatening to replace sugar with brimstone and treacle. These moments add a touch of bitter to what would otherwise be an overly sweet concoction. There are also notes of a kind of wistful mysticism: When the Bird Lady, sitting on the steps of St. Paul’s, sings “Feed the Birds,” she seems to embody both the encompassing spirit of charity and the very soul of old London itself. The magical production at BDT Stage seems proof that the cliché about an event being “fun for children of all ages” can be absolutely true. I was spellbound by the evening, and at the same time, I could see everything through the eyes of my grandsons, ages five and nine, whom I plan to treat to Mary Poppins later in the summer: the lively musical numbers, the tricks, and the array of peculiar figures they’ll encounter, including balletic statues, tapping chimney sweeps and brightly colored singing and dancing human candies. Presented by BDT Stage through September 5, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder. 303-449-6000, bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Read the full review here.
Pump Boys and Dinettes. Pump Boys and Dinettes isn’t really a play, but rather a collection of songs spun around a concept so thin it’s hardly there. The place is a small town on Highway 57 “somewhere between Frog Level and Smyrna,” and the protagonists are four guys who work at a filling station/car shop and still haven’t managed to fix Uncle Bob’s brokendown Winnebago, which has been there for ages because — as they tell us in song — they’re “Taking It Slow.” They spend much of their time at the nearby Double Cupp, a diner run by lively sisters Prudie and Rhetta Cupp, whose “Menu Song” extols their homemade pecan pie, biscuits, butter beans and corncheese grits. This amiable nothing of a play, written in the early 1980s, was nominated for a Tony and has enjoyed a robust performance history around the country ever since, primarily because the songs are bouncy, fast and fun, with a rockabilly, countryWestern flavor — except for a couple of mildly sweet ballads, one shared by the two sisters, in which they lament never really having known each other (it’s completely unclear why, since they work together day after day), and one a pump boy’s tribute to his “Mamaw.” The musical has a strong participatory quality: The actors often address audience members directly, and they encourage dancing during the raucous final number. Many of the folks at Miners Alley seem to know the score, and they respond to the music with clapping and to the jokes with warm laughter. The set, by Kyle Scoggins, is a finely detailed, welcoming wonder, and Vance McKenzie’s lighting is equally bold and bright. There’s formidable musicianship, both vocal and instrumental, on the stage, too – but it's hurt by the sound level. Miners Alley is an intimate venue, and every one of the singers has a strong voice, so it’s unclear why the director felt the need for amplification. Still, the singers were miked so high that it was impossible to gauge vocal quality, and the instruments occasionally drowned out the singing. Sometimes, particularly for a slight sunny piece like this, less is a whole lot more. Presented by Miners Alley Playhouse through August 23. 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, minersalley.com. Read the full review here.