Best Production of a Comedy 2012 | American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

American Night tells the story of immigrants in America through a crazed mix of skits, historical references, inspired parody and moments of pathos and insight. As the play opens, the protagonist is studying for his citizenship test, and as he reads, a phantasmagoric tapestry of historical events unfolds. He witnesses the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 — under which huge swaths of Mexico's land were lost to the United States — and runs into such figures as Malcolm X and Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. He gives Sacagawea, the Native American woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their voyage, a bright-green pair of Nikes and advises her to "just do it." The play explores the evils of racism with serious intelligence and irrepressible high spirits, and the Denver Center Theatre Company's joyous, driving production was first-rate, from the fluid tech to the balls-out energy of the cast.

Phantom is different from that Andrew Lloyd Webber behemoth, Phantom of the Opera. It's smaller in scope, stronger on plot and character, and has a more supple score — though the surging emotions and Gothic plot points are all still there. For this production, Boulder's Dinner Theatre fielded two leads with terrific voices, as well as a stage full of impressively skilled performers in smaller roles. By now the company has its tech down pat, which meant a cunningly contrived set and elegant costumes. The direction — pacing, focus, balance — was top-notch, too. And the sound, as always, was crisp and professional: Neal Dunfee's orchestra has been an unsung (no pun intended) gift to this company for many years.

The creation of "Mustang," Luis Jimenez's 32-foot-tall rearing stallion in blue painted fiberglass, has all the elements of a good movie: Mature artist gets a major commission and attempts to create his masterpiece, but can't seem to complete it. More than ten years pass, with dueling lawsuits crossing between the artist and his patron, the City and County of Denver. Then, in what would be considered the climax — if later outrageous events didn't eclipse it — the still-under-construction piece falls and kills Jimenez. The sculpture was eventually completed by his studio and erected in 2008 outside the Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport — and that's when the manure really hit the fan. The piece was stung by the slings and arrows of genuine hatred, including a social-media campaign to have it removed; its nostrils, glowing eyes and scrotum were the subjects of obsessive interest. The commotion proved once again that great art can elicit strong emotions; these just weren't the right ones. The haters obviously don't understand (much less appreciate) Jimenez's sophisticated neo-pop work, a combination of the heroic Western sculpture tradition and the sensibility of Chicano low-rider culture — and a perfect symbol for Denver.

Readers' Choice: "Mustang," Luis Jimenez

We couldn't help feeling like we were living in a big city last spring, when Create Denver brought digital media and 3-D video projection to the heart of the Denver Theatre District, making use first of the giant Colorado Convention Center LED screen at 14th and Champa streets before turning the whole wall of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House into a many-storied projection screen for an eye-popping light show. Random dancers and BMX bikers entertained in the intersection as the sun went down on a beautiful evening, and we swear we heard a collective inhalation of expectation and joy as the first images of the digital video program, curated by Ryan Pattie and Ivar Zeile of Plus Gallery, flickered into view up above. After that ended, the Ellie began to light up with site-specific patterns and images in a spectacular narrative in the dark. It was a major art happening...and we're ready for more.

Art and design intersected three ways last summer at Microclimates, the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign launched by artists Samuel Schimek and Rob Mack. The installation, a sort of soundscaped walk through three environments — the woods, a cave, and a meadow inhabited by animal graphics and iconic images — spread throughout the garage that is Super Ordinary. At the opening, many of those images repeated in the fashion designs of a third partner, Rebecca Peebles, whose styles hit a makeshift runway that led out onto a street lined with onlookers and food trucks. It helped that it was a beautiful, festive summer evening and that the subject matter was whimsical. We can only hope that next summer brings more happenings of this sort to Super Ordinary.

Even now, on the brink of total approval, the controversy still seems to rage around international installation artist Christo's dream to drape sections of the Arkansas River in southern Colorado with translucent fabric canopies. And though the Bureau of Land Management gave its okay to the project in November, clearing a major hurdle for Christo, and it seems likely that the project, which outlived Jeanne-Claude, Christo's famous red-haired partner in crime, will proceed, there are still a few permitting roadblocks. Originally slated for 2014, the Over the River schedule has been moved back another year, to August 2015. But no matter: It will happen. And when it does, folks from around the world will journey to Colorado to see it.

While we certainly understand the desire to protect one's brand, the chances of anybody confusing Elway the band with John Elway the man are about as good as people mistaking this fishwrap for the similarly named Westwood college. Just the same, when the Broncos executive caught wind that the band formerly known as 10-4 Eleanor was now calling itself Elway, he got all John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt about it. Only instead of marveling, "Hey, that's my name, too!," he sicced his attorneys on the dudes, requesting that they kindly knock it off.

When Alex Botwin parted ways with Pnuma Trio, the multi-talented musician focused on Paper Diamond, which took over the electronic airwaves, and he helped build up other artists who later found great success. This inspired him to form Elm & Oak Records, a store and label now based in Boulder that sells records from the imprint's flagship artists as well as merch and other local retail items. With Two Fresh, Quiz, Cherub, Raw Russ and Paper Diamond on the label, Elm & Oak has steadily grown since 2010, and shows no signs of stopping in 2012.

Reggae on the Roof, the brainchild of Francois Baptiste and 3Deep Productions, has gone through many inceptions and DJs, but the Thursday-night party at Vinyl has never stopped. Attendees can expect to hear the hottest sounds and vibes courtesy of KDJ Above, who turns the place into an island dance hall with the sounds of the best reggae interspersed with the latest in mainstream hip-hop. Arguably the most consistent weekly party, Reggae on the Roof has held it down for more than a decade, and from the looks of the crowded dance floors, ain't a damn thing changed.

Entering the Aurora Fox's black-box theater for K2, audience members were confronted by a steep cliff (a miraculous piece of design by Charles Packard), where two men were sitting on a ledge. Pakistan's K2 is the second-highest mountain in the world, and it kills climbers; these two men are stranded there. One of them has a gruesome injury on his leg; the other makes a few attempts to climb the cliff and summon help. It's bitter cold and growing dark. The two debate survival strategies, muse about mortality and consider what their lives have meant — and that's pretty much it for the action. The play asks a lot of both actors and viewers, trapping them together in a static situation and a bleak and terrifying place. But under the direction of donnie l. betts and in the hands of two veteran actors, Jude Moran and William Hahn, K2 proved a riveting evening of theater.

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