Casting Terry Burnsed as Bloom in Circe, a staged chapter from Ulysses, was a stretch. Burnsed is slender and small, closer in body type to James Joyce himself than to such traditional Blooms as Zero Mostel. But his performance in the role was masterly. He managed the difficult feat of making the character simultaneously ascetic and self-indulgent, anguished and funny, powerless and the fulcrum of the action.

William Nicholson's The Retreat From Moscow was a real find for the Aurora Fox -- the best production staged there in several years. The play details the breakdown of a highly civilized marriage, unfurling in low-key, logical increments. It's subtle, passionate, assured and full of magnificent bits of quoted poetry.

In PHAMALy's Guys and Dolls -- and with a nod to Marlon Brando -- Leonard Barrett Jr. shone as the seductive conman Sky Masterson. In Angels in America, he played a completely different role: that of Belize, a former drag queen. Here his acting was playfully self-aware without being self-conscious; he was sometimes funny and sometimes wise. When, without sentimentality, he told the dying protagonist Prior that he'd be with him all the way, he touched us to the core. The theater community has a satisfying double threat in Barrett Jr.

Gypsy's Rose is usually played as an iron-sided belter, but Susan Dawn Carson made her warm and sympathetic. This interpretation brought out interesting nuances in the role, actually highlighting the character's narcissism. Marcus Waterman gave Rose's partner, Herbie, a sad integrity that made him the moral center of the play. There was genuine chemistry between these two actors, and it breathed life into a well-worn plot.

Jacques Brel is about roses and wine, nostalgia, love, and bright, toe-tapping songs. But there is also a sense of bitter world-weariness to Jacques Brel's music, which was brought to life by three talented musicians and four superb performers, including singer Erica Sarzin-Borrillo. Sarzin-Borrillo is a unique stage presence, lacquered and artificial -- but there's a profound reservoir of passion at her core. The raw yearning she brought to "Marieke," one of Brel' s most powerful songs, was one of this revue's unforgettable moments.

Some observers speculated that Dirty Story represented departing artistic director Donovan Marley's raised middle finger to the Denver Center Theatre Company. Others viewed it as an intelligently provocative selection. Either way, it was a brilliant choice. The production transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a sadomasochistic relationship between a middle-aged English professor and a bright young student, with a dopey, gun-twirling cowboy periodically erupting into the action. There was something in it to offend both Jews and Palestinians, and plenty there to make all of us think.

Racism is a common enough topic in theater, but Dael Orlandersmith's Yellowman explored a different kind of bigotry: the contempt felt by some lighter-skinned African-Americans toward their darker-skinned brethren, and the reciprocal rage it engenders. The play dares to evoke all kinds of stereotypes as Alma, one of the two lead characters, describes the revulsion she feels toward her own mother, whom she describes as fat, drunken, ugly and uneducated. The "high yellow" Eugene is rejected by his far darker father. Orlandersmith deserves tremendous credit for her honesty and courage in dealing with this topic, and Curious must be commended for its serious-minded production.

Director Stephanie Shine set her Comedy of Errors in nineteenth-century New Orleans and gave the actors a lot of freedom to improvise, resulting in many hilarious bits. But she also reined them in when necessary and protected the music of the lines. The result was funny, relaxed and magical -- the perfect amusement for a summer night.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Dreamcoat is a mishmash of silly jokes and pulsing tunes. For his first show as artistic director at Boulder's Dinner Theatre, Michael J. Duran energized the company's talented actors, including a group of delightfully unself-conscious children. He tossed in just enough zaniness to keep the audience engaged and giggling. Duran's feat was amazing, indeed: He brought a swirling joy and excitement to a tired old musical.

True, it's hard to continue loving an outfit that started cheeky and small but is now a multimillion-dollar endeavor that becomes more expensive by the year. But these folks keep delivering. Where does Cirque du Soleil find these extraordinary people -- clowns, dancers and athletes who combine precision, explosive power and balletic grace? Varekai's musicians and performers, like its settings and costumes, were evocative, amazing and totally enjoyable. It was a performance that left audiences incapable of thought, suspended, wishing the show would never end.

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