Okay, we admit it: We fell in love with Maggie Sczekan's Christine in the Boulder's Dinner Theatre production of Phantom. When she was on stage, we were mesmerized. When she wasn't, we waited impatiently for her to return. So many musical-comedy ingenues are annoying: pretty, simpering puppets whose sweet, shy gestures could never come from a real, breathing woman, but Sczekan is a real actress. If her gestures were charming and pretty, they were also sincere; her voice was rich and expressive, with all the range and musicality the score required; and her entire performance showed individuality and spine. Sczekan has star quality, and we'll be surprised if we're able to keep her in Colorado much longer. Here's hoping.

We'd seen Jamie Ann Romero as a charming ingenue and a cute comedienne several times before, but it was never clear that she had the gravitas for a tragic role — until the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's production of Romeo and Juliet. Romero's Juliet was a lovely, playful child who grew before our eyes into a deep-souled woman. It was a tender, touching, radiant and fully realized performance.

Best Addition to Denver's Art District on Santa Fe

Black Book Gallery

Black Book Gallery

Black Book brings urban and street-inspired art to Denver's Art District on Santa Fe in a big, bold way, hosting exhibits that showcase both local and national figures. One month you might see seafaring woodcuts by John Fellows, the next, sculptures and prints by Ravi Zupa; international names like Ottograph, Galo and 2501, who showed together here a year ago, are also a big part of the fluid Black Book mix. And the gallery keeps the art coming, one show after another, sweeping house monthly. Watch carefully: This kind of work isn't going away anytime soon, and neither is Black Book, which deals in affordable, collectible works that reflect the times we live in.

Clyfford Still Museum
Courtesy Clyfford Still Museum Facebook page

Clyfford Still, a pioneer of abstract expressionism and a giant in the history of modern art, died in 1980, leaving behind a will stipulating that his estate, comprising some 94 percent of his life's artistic output, would be given to an American city that would pledge to build a museum to display his work — and nothing else. In 2004, then-mayor John Hickenlooper brought home the bacon when he sweet-talked the artist's widow into selecting Denver as the recipient of Still's posthumous gift. Five years later, construction began on the Clyfford Still Museum, hard against the Denver Art Museum's Hamilton Building, according to a design by Brad Cloepfil's Allied Works Architecture, and the doors opened this past November. While the exterior is chaste, made up of simple cubic volumes with unexpected cutouts in the grooved cast-in-place concrete walls, the interior is stunning, with these three-dimensional walls providing the perfect counterpoint to Still's utterly flat signature work.

For the past year, the Kimble Music Group family has been providing excellent engineering, recording and mixing services to hip-hop cats all over the rap scene at KMG Studios. From Rockie to the entire Super Dope team to every indie artist on the rise, KMG has made its mark on records across the board. Great quality, state-of-the-art equipment and the golden touch of engineer and founder Greg Kimble keep KMG a cut above the rest. Those who have recorded here bear witness to impeccable professionalism, flexible hours and a comfortable atmosphere.

AAMP has consistently produced a quality late-night party that surpasses all others and continues to leave lasting impressions. To keep things legit, a door guy is always there checking IDs, and security ensures guests' safety by making sure nothing unsafe is going down. AAMP brings in the hottest dance acts, some of whom have never been seen or heard by many of the attendees, who simply show up because they know the party is going to run late and be a good one. These after-hours soirees typically don't start until midnight, and they run well into the morning hours — or until people can't party anymore. Should you find yourself in the late-night mode, this is the place to be.

Gothic Theatre

The Nerd Prom, a party/concert that went down at the Gothic Theatre in January and was put on by Denver funk 'n' soul band Bop Skizzum, drew current, former and never-were nerds. There were seafoam-green tuxedos, light sabers, Chewbacca masks, "Kick Me" signs and taped-up glasses. (Stop us if this sounds like something Stefon would list on SNL's Weekend Update.) Because when it comes to proms, nobody should want to step out of a white limo with doves flying out from behind them. Even if you celebrated Nerd Prom years after your real one, you could think of it as therapy — with legal booze.

Yellow Feather Coffee

When Yellow Feather opened its doors, it was the kind of coffee shop that offered not just solidly great coffee with a choice of milk and milk substitutes, but a community-minded space, as well. While not a traditional music venue, Yellow Feather has hosted touring artists along with local bands looking to have their release shows at an intimate venue where people of all ages could go and feel welcome without the pressure of alcohol or ticket sales. The shop has also hosted classes through Free School Denver, and its relaxed environment on an otherwise busy street is welcoming to crust punks, artists and businesspeople alike.

Best American Idol Appearance by a Denver Artist

Magic Cyclops

Scott Fuller had pretty much retired Magic Cyclops. But he found the opportunity to rekindle his long-running brand of performance-art comedy and music by trying out for American Idol last year, at what was then Invesco Field at Mile High. Clearly, he did it for his own amusement and perhaps to have stories to tell later; he didn't necessarily expect to make it to the first round of the broadcast version. In what has to be one of the most memorable few minutes in Idol's history, Magic performed a couple of songs for the judges and got to be funnier on the show than anyone has ever been. While the appearance translated into a bit of national notoriety for Fuller, it also added real color to an otherwise tame program.

National Western Complex

Last summer's inaugural Denver County Fair, which took shape in the fertile, never-say-never imaginations of event promoter/dreamer Dana Cain and artist/gardener/doer Tracy Weil (not to mention pie-making artist Chandler Romeo, who came up with the original concept), cut through every cultural cross-section you could think of. There was fashion. There was urban commerce. There were pancakes, chickens, a freak show, performing pigs, pie contests and Devo. The most important point? The Denver County Fair wouldn't have worked without the dozens and dozens of volunteers who stepped up to set it up and tear it down, coordinate events in each pavilion and keep things running smoothly throughout. More than a spectacle, the fair demonstrated how disparate folks from a diverse community can come together and throw the best party this town has seen. We can hardly wait for the 2012 edition in August.

Readers' Choice: Taste of Colorado

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