When you're designing for a small space like Miners Alley Playhouse on a low budget for a play set in a treehouse, and the actors have to enter and leave through a trap door beneath it, you've got yourself a whole lot of headaches. Fortunately, designer Richard Pegg, who has a solid understanding of both aesthetics and construction, was more than up to solving the problems in his design for Sweet Storm. He made the interior of the treehouse welcoming and cozy, and the overall stage imagery — sky, tree branches — elegant. And as the two protagonists played out their difficult relationship, you sensed that the one thing you didn't have to worry about was their physical safety.

Any show with Chuck D as the host would qualify for this award, but this one sparkled like it was taking place two decades ago. Flavor Flav stole the show, providing the crowd with some truly memorable moments — now grabbing the bass from Davy DMX and slapping intensely, now stepping behind the drums to drop an incredible solo. X-clan, Schooly D, Leaders of the New School, Awesome Dre and Son of Bizerk all brought high energy to the night, which was anchored by Chuck D's personal stories about each act. Some would say the stars of the Hip Hop Gods Tour are past their prime — but you couldn't prove it by this show.

Last summer, Denver proved, once again, that it's a straight-up poetry town — and also that it takes a village to make it that way. Minor Disturbance represents the city's junior division of slam poets, who, besides being talented beyond their years to begin with, benefit from the expert coaching of the adult brigade. So we're not surprised that the youth slam team took first place at the Brave New Voices 2012 national slam-off. Keep on rhymin'.

When MCA Denver curator Nora Burnett Abrams and Aspen Art Museum curator Jacob Proctor announced that only seven artists — out of 300 considered — would appear in Continental Drift, there was a collective groan heard across the state's art scene. That reaction would have been understandable had the show been a survey. But to appreciate Continental Drift, which was centered on the theme of "place," you needed to see it as two solos — one for Jeanne Liotta and the other for Christina Battle — plus a duet pairing Adam Milner with Yumi Janairo Roth and, finally, a trio comprising Edie Winograde, Scott Johnson and Sarah McKenzie. Filled with superb art, the show proved that both the MCA Denver and the AAM have started to embrace the talent that exists right here in our own back yard.

Denver's got plenty of venues, but when it comes to sound quality, not all rooms are created equal. For a sure bet, though, walk into 3 Kings Tavern almost any night of the week and see a show with John Fate behind the board. From sparse folk to the heaviest of metal, the soundman extraordinaire makes the music of every act that steps on stage here sound incredible. Even during summer festivals, when Fate's juggling band after band, he devotes his attention to every instrument and mic, from sound check to finished product. A nice dude, to boot, Fate's a pleasure to work with, making sure that the bands are happy with the mix, the monitors are on point and the audience is having a good time. Whether you're on stage or in the crowd, Fate brings the best sonic experience to all parties.

Serendipity landed Luminous Thread in Denver. Lucky us: The steampunk performance ensemble brings something to the cultural mix that didn't exist before, augmented by trained operatic voices, a bit of Wellesian sci-fi surrealism and, well, luminous threads — beautiful costumes and sets that echo steampunk's Victorian roots. Led by Ben Sargent, who holds up the business end, and multi-talented artistic director Mary Lin, whose resumé includes everything from writing librettos to fire dancing, Luminous Thread is now gearing up for its original opera, Queen Victoria's Floating Garden of Secrets and Natural Wonders, which opens later this spring with performances in Boulder and Denver. The troupe is promising a rousing sea-bound operetta with adventuring mermaids and sky pirates, malfunctioning steampunk gizmos and even an ecological warning/moral at the end. Rest assured, this is not opera as you've ever seen it before — and that's a good thing.

Geoffrey Kent is the go-to fight specialist for almost every theater in the region, which means he's a very physical actor. He also tends to be a cheerful, high-spirited presence on stage. We knew all this before he played Garry in Noises Off, a 2012 Colorado Shakespeare Festival production. Even so, we couldn't possibly have anticipated the level of his brilliant, manic energy in the role. He was fun to watch throughout, but the play's climax was the killer. It required him to hop up a set of high stairs with his shoelaces tied together, fall precipitously down the same stairs, tumble over most of the furniture and come to a thumping stop on his back on the floor. Here's hoping the thunderous applause made up for the bruises.

In Curious Theatre's Red, Ken was the kid who apprenticed with the overbearing, narcissistic artist Mark Rothko, making coffee, cleaning up, fetching Chinese food and enduring huge, pointless and unexpected rages. Ben Bonenfant's portrayal of Ken was vulnerable and self-effacing. But even as Ken soaked up the things the master had to teach, he also began to understand the weakness and self-contradiction at the heart of Rothko's posturing. You could see all this, as well as Ken's growing strength as a man and an artist, in Bonenfant's finely drawn performance.

Nate Kissingford is only six years old. Still, we can't remember seeing an actor stop the action quite the way he did when little Tommy took the courtroom stand in the Arvada Center's Miracle on 34th Street and, with devastating innocence, utterly destroyed his prosecutor father's case against Kris Kringle. Cute kids often bring down the house, as Kissingford did. But it's a rare child who can perform with this much poise, timing, concentration and sweet lack of self-consciousness.

Magnificently stagey and at the same time deeply sincere, Deborah Persoff is a mainstay of the local theater scene and always a pleasure to watch, whether she's being wryly sophisticated, dead serious or What-Ever-Happened-to-Baby-Jane crazy. She got to strut all her comic stuff as Woman, half of an older couple determined to disabuse a younger couple of their illusions in Edward Albee's The Play About the Baby at Germinal Stage Denver this season. At one point she delivered a fabulous monologue about living the artist's life in Europe that described the painter who hanged himself for love of her and used every cliché author that Albee could get his hands on. Like almost everything Persoff does, it was pitch-perfect.

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