Best Actress in a Musical 2014 | Erica Sweany in Curtains | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
The Arvada Center

Niki is the ingenue of Curtains, an odd combination of murder mystery, farce and heartfelt tribute to musical theater. In the role, Erica Sweany was charming throughout, long-limbed and graceful, with a lovely singing voice. In the Arvada Center production, she really got to strut her stuff in a gorgeous Rogers-and-Astaire-style duet with Jim Poulos called "A Tough Act to Follow," a number that provided such pure, dizzy pleasure, you wanted it never to stop.

The Raven and the Writing Desk tapped artists Emi Brady and Tim Tindle to design the cover art for its luminous 2013 EP Scavenger. True to the band's imaginative aesthetic and songwriting, Brady and Tindle created a fold-out raven, colorful on the outside and black and white on the inside, where you'll find the bird's skeleton along with hand-lettered lyrics and credits. It's the perfect accompaniment for the group's literate, baroque pop songs. Many bands want to create a secret musical world, but The Raven and the Writing Desk went beyond the songs, providing a real work of art in which to wrap the music.

By holding its release show for (compass) at the Eron Johnson Antiques warehouse and incorporating a sort of treasure hunt, Chimney Choir made good on much of its mystique. The space truly is a warehouse, where the band held shows long ago amid architectural artifacts from old houses. The performance featured sets from similarly minded artists such as Laura Goldhamer and Ian Cooke. Chimney Choir created skits that were performed throughout the show and tied in to the album's central theme of finding one's own compass in life. Thanks to the band's care and attention to detail, it felt almost magical.

Best Alternative Take on the Western Tradition

Cross Currents

Native American art has been dominated by traditional forms such as weaving, jewelry, pottery and baskets. But for the past few decades, American Indian artists have also plunged into the international contemporary-art dialogue while still maintaining their heritage. For Cross Currents, at the MSU Center for Visual Art, creative director Cecily Cullen invited a group of these Native American artists from across the country. Two of them, photographer Will Wilson and installation artist Marie Watt, are fairly well known, but it was emerging artist Merritt Johnson, a creator of paintings and costumes, who was the show's great revelation.

Cabaret Otaku is in a theater class all its own, a troupe that brings traditional opera to the stage through the heart and vision of the local anime and cosplay communities. Led by classically trained opera singer Christina Marzano Haystead, this dedicated group of professionals takes conventional stories made for the stage and gives them a modern twist, adding elements like gamer music and contemporary humor. While they may initially attract the anime-savvy crowd, Cabaret Otaku's productions are for anyone who enjoys beautiful voices and a laid-back approach to opera.

Pin a blue ribbon on fair directors Dana Cain and Tracy Weil: The Denver County Fair is our winner — and still champion! If the goal of the fair, now in its third year, is to represent every stratum of our city's culture, it's no surprise that at this year's edition, August 1-3, there will be a paean to pot: the first county-fair Pot Pavilion in the nation and probably the world, where blue ribbons will be handed out in such categories as "Most Potent Bud," "Best Brown Infused Recipe" and — ta-da! — "Best Homemade Bong." Though there will be no actual weed in the building, its legal presence will still be felt, and the adults-only pavilion will also house live music, tie-dye and paraphernalia vendors, light shows and comedy. And right next door: The Beer Pavilion, also new, with tastings and a slate of blue-ribbon contests of its own.

Patrick Dupays of Z Cuisine is as much an aficionado of local artists as he is a great chef, which is why it's not surprising that he turned the hole-in-the-wall spot between Z and its sister brasserie, À Côté, into a gallery space where artist friends — many of them also his restaurant patrons — could show their work. Entre Nous — which means "between us," in the coziest, most private sense of the words — opened last fall, giving the block a new element of high-street society as well as a place to hang out before or after eating. The wait for an open table has never been so pleasant.

Adam Milner: Wave so I know you're real was a conceptual exploration of the world as seen through the quirky filter of the artist's everyday life. The initial impression of the exhibit was of a quiet, contemplative world, something like a library or an archive. But as you looked closer, it got pretty wild — as with the video of people, mostly men, masturbating online, or the one in which Milner's open mouth catches the light reflected off the chrome on a public urinal. Both pieces were charged with sexual content but had been abstracted to such an extent that they came off as smart rather than vulgar, which was quite a feat.

When money was being raised for the Daniel Libeskind-designed addition to the Denver Art Museum, oil zillionaire Frederic C. Hamilton, then chairman of the board of trustees, met the challenge by throwing $26 million into the pot. That's why the addition is called the Frederic C. Hamilton Building. But Hamilton wasn't done. A couple of months ago, he announced that he was turning over his collection of impressionist paintings to the DAM, including pieces by Cézanne, Monet, Manet and all the other big names. The Hamilton paintings were on display in Nature as Muse when the announcement was made, allowing everyone to understand how the bequest beefs up the museum's impressionist holdings and makes the DAM a major repository of the style in the American West.

The project of artist Donald Fodness, Showpen provides low-cost housing and studio space where select young artist-residents can build and exhibit bodies of work for a given amount of time. Showpen's success rate is its best advertisement: The majority of its "graduates" move on from the incubator to grad schools, teaching jobs or other art-related work. But the real beauty of Showpen is that it's something Fodness does not because it's his job, but just because he wants to. His reward lies in the work that results: Showpen makes champions.

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