Adding DJ Sara T, one of Denver's best on the turntables, to the mix of stories and styles in Jason Grote's 1001 was a stroke of genius on the part of director Ethan McSweeny. It jacked up the energy and contributed all kinds of electricity, dimension and excitement.
This show is a wonderful compendium of many of Gershwin's best songs, strung along a plot so thin as to be almost non-existent. Sung by the talented regulars at Boulder's Dinner Theatre, all the songs glimmered with life, from such favorites as "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Nice Work If You Can Get it," "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me" to lesser-known numbers like "Slap That Bass" and "Bidin' My Time." The actors sang and danced their hearts out and had so much fun with the show that only the Grinchiest audience member could have resisted.
We're not awarding this for any one particular performance, though if we had to choose among this year's crop, it'd be Everything Old Is New Again, in which Annie Dwyer revived one of her old tricks: going out into the audience, snatching patrons' drinks -- beer, wine, Scotch, it was all the same to her -- and sucking them greedily down while never missing a line or a beat. Yes, the woman acts and dances and can sing raucous or beautiful depending on requirements. Sure, she teaches kids' classes and helps keep venerable old Heritage going. But that's not the reason for this award. Dwyer is fearless. She'll wade into the audience and corral some poor man, tousling his hair, accusing him of jilting her, snarking off to his wife or girlfriend, sitting on his lap, leaving a sticky lipstick ring on his bald pate. And it never gets old, because she does it with the same glitter-eyed intensity every time. She's a whiz with bubble gum, too. She can lasso you with it. Bottom line: Dwyer is a treasure and a true Colorado original. No one else can do what she does, and our theater scene would be much poorer without her.
This theater piece, put together by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, is about six innocent people who spent anywhere from two to 21 years on death row and were then released. The most unsettling case is that of Sunny Jacobs, who, along with her husband, Jesse Tafero, was found guilty of the killing of two police officers and spent sixteen years on death row. Tafero suffered a hideously bungled execution in 1990; Sunny was released two years later. There were some very strong performances in the OpenStage production, and also a couple that were less polished but touching and effective in their naturalism. Theater has historically been a forum for political action, and OpenStage should be applauded for rising to the challenge with this thoughtful exploration of an important topic, one that increases in importance with every current diminution of our civil and legal rights.
Producer-director (and marketer) Dan Wiley bet he could stage this edgy, contemporary musical about a city suffering a drought so bad its inhabitants are forced to pay to pee -- and executed for freelance urination -- in the Denver Department of Public Works' Wastewater Management Building. He rigged up a stage, cast a group of talented actors, tinkered with the continuing sound problems of his venue, and came up a winner. Urinetown was one of the brightest and most appealing musicals of the year, and it attracted the kind of alert young audience many local theaters would kill for.
William Hahn is one of those actors who always make an impact; you often find your eyes straying toward him, even when there's significant action somewhere else on the stage. In King Lear, sporting a gentle, soul-shrinking little smile, he brought an element of truly original creepiness to a rather staid and predictable production.
Bill Christ played Amadeus's Emperor Joseph II, usually a tiny and forgettable role, to hilarious effect, listening to Mozart's music as puzzlement and a determination to appear cultured chased each other all over his face. The brilliance of Christ's bumbling buffoons -- he knows just how far to take them -- stems in part from his genuine power and heft as an actor.
St. Julien Hotel & Spa
There's something magically Christmasy about standing out in the snow and pushing your nose against the glass of a ritzy hotel to see satin-clad girls crooning retro Irving Berlin classics by the fire. In this wonderland setting, former Cabaret Diosa dancing girl Kim Franco and her crack troupe of old compadres performed live in the lobby of the boutique-y St. Julien on Sunday evenings during last year's holiday season. The '40s-era extravaganza was inspired, and admission was free. It is a wonderful life.
Colorado might have lost the Crispy Family Carnival, but we still have Ukulele Loki, aka Aaron Johnson. A true vaudeville performer, Loki served as music director/ composer/on-stage musician for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's 2006 production of As You Like It, led the "indie acoustic chamber pop" sounds of the Gadabout Orchestra and acted as ringleader for his vaudeville burlesque circus, the Folderol Follies. His work as the "Talented Talker" for the Crispy Family Carnival has also qualified him to perform as a radio emcee -- currently on Route 78 West, which airs Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon on KVCU-Radio 1190 in Boulder -- and foil for sideshow performers, bands and burlesque legends such as Dita Von Teese. Loki's love of all things sideshow ensures that vaudeville will never die in Denver.
What do Zen and cabaret have in common? Nothing, unless you're Nina Rolle. The artist describes Zen Cabaret as "a traveling medicine show that pitches a tent in whatever town it's in, and then these rogues show up and put on a production." Most recently, Rolle pitched her Zen tent in Boulder for Zen Cabaret Version 6.5: Play Money, complete with audience-interaction elements, a soundtrack provided by Jayme Stone and absurdist retail therapy. "In a way, the whole thing is a practice of how I like to laugh, the kind of laugh I want to bring to people," Rolle explains. So chuckle it up.

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