The last time we saw Stephen Day play a leading role was as Albin in the Arvada Center's The Birdcage some years back, when he was a fussy, silly delight. For the most part, he shows up in supporting though significant roles, as he did this year in A Christmas Carol: The Musical, also at the Arvada Center. And whenever he does, he adds warmth, assurance and a rich, strong baritone to the proceedings. As the Spirit of Christmas Past, he evoked every nostalgic, Dickensian thought you've ever had about the meaning of the season.

Dairy Arts Center

Failure: A Love Story is a swift, sad-funny theater piece featuring three lovely sisters: giggly, luminous Nelly, athletic, swim-obsessed Jenny June, and patient, practical Gertie. Metaphorically, they could all be facets of a single, fascinating woman, as each, in turn, enjoys a passionate love affair with the same man. In the Catamounts' intellectually elegant production, the women were all beautifully portrayed — but as played by Trina Magness, Gertie seemed to embody the depths and sorrows of all three sisters. Magness imbued this character with a radiant, low-key warmth that centered the entire evening.

Emily Paton Davies seems to get better every year, and her portrayal of lonely, angry Maureen, trapped with a crazed, manipulative mother in Edge Theatre's production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, was a revelation. Her timing was impeccable, her emotional responses beautifully and passionately modulated throughout. Even as Maureen's longing and despair broke your heart, her rages froze it.

Town Hall Arts Center

Most productions of Hair just don't get Sheila, the anti-war agitator with the vulnerable heart. They make her a caricature, or some sort of hippie-ish but tight-assed, lean-in corporate boss. But director Nick Sugar cast the perfect actress in the role in his Town Hall Arts Center production: Norrell Moore, red-haired, strong-featured, down-to-earth and passionate. You could easily imagine this woman inspiring a crowd into action or leading a march. It didn't hurt that she has a terrific voice and got to shine in two of the show's most memorable songs: "Easy to Be Hard" and "Good Morning Starshine."

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is a national chain, yes, but the Texas-based theater house still leaves room in its monthly lineup for programming unique to each location. Enter Keith Garcia, a devout cinephile who left the city after a decade with the Denver Film Society and took his eclectic taste and unique event-planning skills to the Alamo in 2013. He's already invited Hollywood badass Pam Grier to the theater and started the new, late-night cult horror-film series Channel Z, all while bringing great, underappreciated films and forgotten classics to a brand-new audience.

Curious Theatre Company

It's worth visiting Curious for the building alone, an intimate, beautiful structure that got its start as a nineteenth-century church, with a heavy wooden door and, along the walls, the frames of long-gone stained-glass windows. And whether you're feeling holy or just plain thirsty, it's definitely worth mounting the stairs before the show or during intermission to visit the Sanctuary Bar, where you can get beer, whiskey, soda or a glass of wine and chat with fellow theater lovers in a cozy, time-burnished ambience that recalls a traditional English pub.

Buell Theatre

Graduation, major birthday, visiting parent anxious to treat you, date you want to impress? The Buell is where the big, glittering Broadway shows land — and increasingly, Denver is the first stop for the most acclaimed and successful of them. Ticket prices vary from show to show and according to seating, going from as low as $20 to as high as $100 — and quite a bit more for a major hit like The Book of Mormon. But if you've been reading the reviews for the New York production of, say, Kinky Boots and salivating at the idea of actually seeing the show, this is the place.

Buntport Theater Company
Courtesy Buntport Theater Facebook page

Each production at Buntport is completely original: The plays are written and acted by the five company members, all of them terrific actors. They may find themselves inspired by a literary work, an anecdote someone read in the paper, a floating thought or idea, and then they're driven to make their own crazy kind of sense out of it. Operating on a shoestring, they've also come up with the most inventive sets in town: an ice rink, with the actors skating through the entire evening; a van with scenes painted on its sides that gets pushed from place to place as needed; a wall made entirely of glass jars, each one containing some specific, meaningful object. Hang around after the show and the cast will come out and chat with you.

Denver Performing Arts Complex

It's been a long day, and you need to unwind in a comfortable place where you can slip off your shoes under the table, get a drink and enjoy entertainment that really does entertain. At the Garner Galleria, you can sit at a counter along a rail or at a table with friends and co-workers and watch — depending on the schedule — anything from the tuneful I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change to a Second City revue from Chicago to a song-filled Sinatra retrospective to the outrageous improvisations of Dixie Longate (aka Kriss Andersson) as she holds a real Tupperware party on stage and tosses off a series of smutty bon mots that will have you laughing helplessly for weeks afterward every time someone says the words "collapsible bowl."

Best Theater for Discovering Performers — or Becoming One

Bug Theatre

Plays, films, music, classes, comedy — the Bug does it all in a long, narrow auditorium watched over by a white-faced puppet figure of Richard Nixon. Resident theater company Equinox creates a year-round schedule that alternates crazed musicals with serious work; local filmmakers screen their work regularly. And if you've always wanted to perform, you can try out your material — any kind — at one of the Bug's monthly Freak Trains, when you'll get five minutes on stage under the eye of charming and indomitable emcee GerRee Hinshaw.

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