He was lewd. He was lurid. He was omnisexual. He was delicious. Whenever Nick Sugar steps onto a stage, he owns it, and Dr. Frank-N-Furter is a role he was born to play. What can we say, except that he strutted and preened and sang and flashed that crimson-lipped, lemon-wedge-shaped smile until he'd worked his way into the nightmare fantasies of every person in the audience.
There were a number of fine performances in this edgy production, but the most memorable was that of Todd Coulter as the mad evangelist Charles Guiteau, who shot President James Garfield because he was angry at not being named ambassador to France. The real-life Guiteau wrote a poem before his execution, "I Am Going to My Lordy," that became one of the most grotesquely effective songs in the musical. Todd Coulter made an indelible impression as a mad and darkly luminous Guiteau -- particularly singing this song and high-kicking his way across the stage as he was led to the gallows.
Brian Mallgrave can produce a melodious soprano when he wants to, but he gave Sylvia St. Croix a strong and surprising baritone -- even though he played the role in drag. A multiple-threat performer -- Mallgrave can sing and act, be funny or serious, take on straight plays or musicals -- he was a hoot as bossy St. Croix, tutoring his nasty little child prodigy, arguing with her mother and sulking quietly but eloquently in corners when he didn't get his way.
Gina Schuh-Turner deployed a huge, bright voice, perfect poise and perfect timing in this extended piece of camp. In the first act, she was Judy Denmark, prissing around in a belled-out skirt and gauzy little apron as the perfect housewife and mother. In the second act, she transformed into stage goddess Ginger DelMarco and was dealing with two overwhelming mothers, a spying newspaper reporter, a beautiful maid who was intent on stealing her place in the spotlight, and her ruthless little daughter. Need we say that she more than held her own?
Though it's not as well-known as Death of a Salesman, and though it has dated and creaky moments, All My Sons showcases Arthur Miller's genius and reveals his emotional and ethical depths. An excellent choice for the Denver Center, it raises questions that are as pertinent today as they were in the 1940s. Bruce K. Sevy directed this fully realized and quietly powerful production, the greatest strength of which lay in the masterful performances of Mike Hartman and Jeanne Paulsen as Joe and Kate Keller. Hartman was bluff and charming until his past corruption caught up with him and he began to crumble from within. Paulsen gave full weight to Kate Keller's mean-spirited conventionality, and also exposed the grief that underlay it.
Artistic director Jeffrey Nickelson scored a coup in acquiring Pulitzer winner Suzan-Lori Parks's script for production, and he and director Hugo Sayles did the play proud. Nickelson and Damion Hoover played a pair of inner-city brothers named Lincoln and Booth. Both gamesters, they spent their time together sparring, telling tall tales and attempting to trick each other. At first lighthearted, even affectionate, their cons eventually turned violent. Hoover and Nickelson were brilliant, both separately and together: Hoover celebrating a shoplifting spree with a humorous striptease in which he divested himself of the loot, item by item; Nickelson demonstrating the intricacies of three-card monte; both of them bringing this fast-talking, bitter, sad, funny script to life.
Kent Thompson's first Shakespeare production in Colorado was the best the state had seen in years. What worked? Almost everything: The setting in fin de siecle Vienna, the music, the costumes, the cast, which included the luminous Ruth Eglsaer as Isabella, Brent Harris as a surprisingly human Angelo, John Hutton as a Duke who brings the affable manner of England's Prince Charles to his duties, Sam Gregory's sarcastic Lucio and a horde of vital performances in smaller roles. You could argue about Thompson's interpretation, but you couldn't dispute his directorial artistry.
Commissioned to create a play about Gertrude Stein for the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, McCarl came up with this fractured, episodic meditation on Stein's art and relationship with the faithful Alice B. Toklas. Each scene was given a semi-nonsensical title -- "Scene Sic Tea Nine: Definition of a Secretary," "Scene 5,462: Testimony Against Gertrude" -- and the play consisted of jests, insights into Stein's writing or the times, bits of biography, character exploration. Some of the scenes were a wash, but others seemed a perfect marriage of language and feeling, as when Toklas, stung at being called Stein's secretary, looked up the dictionary definition of the word, while a hovering and irrepressibly punning Stein teased at it until it became wondrous. Many of the play's bons mots were worthy of Oscar Wilde, particularly delivered with actress Billie McBride's dry wit, or in Erica Sarzin-Borrillo's flute-like tones.
The men on America's death rows, their lingering, useless days, the terror of the hours until countdown: Most of us rarely think about them, but like the mad aunt in the attic, they are always there, haunting the fringes of consciousness. University of Denver's Sturm College of Law, in conjunction with Alliance Stage, brought the issue into the daylight recently, staging Tim Robbins's Dead Man Walking, based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean. The book and the play make the inhumanity of state-sanctioned execution clear while taking into account the rage and grief of victims' families. Dead Man Walking is, in part, agitprop, but it's agitprop in the most thoughtful and honorable tradition. The production at the Victorian was effective, sustained in large part by the beautiful and committed work of Terry Ann Watts as Sister Helen and Michael Richman's understated, passionate performance as convicted killer Matt Poncelet.
A CBS News poll revealed last fall that 51 percent of Americans believe that God created human beings in their present form. When Inherit the Wind was written, in 1955, religious attacks on evolution seemed safely in America's past, but since then, the anti-Darwinists have regrouped full force. This made Modern Muse's decision to stage this play -- a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial -- particularly timely. John Scopes, a young teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was put on trial for teaching evolution. The Baltimore Sun donated the money for his defense and sent its most famous reporter, H.L. Mencken, to cover the proceedings. In the courtroom, defense attorney Clarence Darrow faced three-time presidential contender William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution. The lively production was a trenchant examination of the beliefs and contradictions at the nation's moral core.

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