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.

The Fourth Wall gave pleasure on many levels. It was erudite without a trace of pomposity, forceful without ever becoming mean-spirited. Well cast and directed by Billie McBride, the production had audience members snorting with surprised laughter time and again. It also gave them something to think about on the way home.

What kind of director would think of staging chapter fifteen of James Joyce's Ulysses, with its stream-of-consciousness representation of one man's mental processes during a single day? Who'd want to tackle all those puns, metaphors, allegorical riffs, allusions, fragments of liturgy and bits of drama, poetry, Shakespeare and even Gilbert and Sullivan? Germinal's Ed Baierlein, that's who. At first confounding, even stunning, the production's magnificent stream of language was ultimately an exhilarating experience. Within Germinal's small space, Baierlein and his talented cast communicated the unwieldy, magnificent uncontainability of Joyce's magnum opus.

Buntport is known for wacky, iconoclastic humor, but the group is also highly literate. So it makes sense that this ice-skating version of Franz Kafka's life (along with an exposition of his most famous story, "The Metamorphosis") would be both laugh-out-loud funny and respectful, even beautiful. No one but the Buntporters would have thought to use artificial ice to such good effect. No other troupe has the ingenuity to write messages in light. No one else combines levity with genuine insight in quite this way.

In A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, set during the Depression years, Tennessee Williams was exploring less poetic lives than in his earlier work. He used caricature, slapstick, even diarrhea jokes, and maintained a fine balance between humor and his customary melancholy. He also gave us moments of grace in which the characters overcame their essential separateness to minister to one another. Williams's later work has often been dismissed as a thin echo of his powerful early plays, but it's clear from this lovely piece that he continued to develop as an artist. Director Laird Williamson and an excellent cast delivered a fine production of Williams's script; Kathleen M. Brady, whose warmth and humor were on full display, was especially riveting as the loud, sweaty and excessive Bodey. The Denver Center Theatre Company deserves kudos for unearthing the play.

Last year, Bas Bleu, which has been presenting theater in Fort Collins for over a decade, moved from its exquisite small theater building to a roomier location. For the first event in the new space, the group staged a two-evening production of Tony Kushner's brilliant seven-hour epic, Angels in America, in collaboration with OpenStage, another Fort Collins institution. The presentation benefited greatly from the combination of resources. Angels boasted some of the best talent around, including OpenStage founders Denise Burson Freestone and Bruce K. Freestone in pivotal roles, and directors Laura Jones and Terry Dodd. This was an understated but emotionally committed production that did full justice to Kushner's mind-bending script.

Jeremy Cole assembled an excellent group of actors, each of whom played several roles, to bring Ovid's fables into the twentieth century in Metamorphoses. He balanced the tone of the production comfortably between comedy and tragedy, mythic resonance and contemporary humor. The set -- a huge, water-filled granite pool that could be anything from a Hollywood swimming pool to the Greeks' dangerous, wine-dark sea -- was a miracle of design and engineering, put together by Michael Duran, Ben Wofford and producer John Ashton. Cole's Metamorphoses seductively combined lighthearted pleasure with a powerful theme.

Wendy Ishii is the artistic director and co-founder of Bas Bleu, a major theatrical force in Fort Collins. She has also gained attention for her work on the plays of Samuel Beckett with faculty from Colorado State University. Ishi's energy and vision keep Bas Bleu going: Her efforts to secure funding facilitated the company's recent move to a larger home. And in performance after performance, she has also proved herself an extraordinary actress. As an all-powerful but eccentric angel in this year's Angels in America, she ripped off the roof. Which, come to think of it, seems only fitting.

Where would Denver theater be without Ed Baierlein? He and his talented wife, Sallie Diamond, started Germinal Stage thirty years ago, back when there was very little theater of any kind in town. He has produced a roster of challenging, hilarious and thoughtful plays every year since -- and in the process, has discovered many of the city's best actors. Baierlein acts (brilliantly), directs, runs the box office and handles publicity, all with finesse. He's also one of the most literate theater people around, staging work that challenges the imagination while never pandering to the crowd.

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