Best Theater for a Special-Occasion Splurge 2014 | Temple Buell Theatre | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

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.

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.

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.

The Arvada Center

If you have slightly conservative relatives visiting who are interested in a night on the the suburbs...head to the Arvada Center. Skip the Black Box Theater, where riskier plays periodically appear, and go for the Mainstage shows — mostly large, professionally staged musicals like Camelot and Don Quixote, with beautiful sets, gorgeous costumes and some of the finest singing you'll ever hear in the area. And during intermission, be sure to check out the impressive art galleries.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is in transition and its last season was uneven — but Geoffrey Kent's A Midsummer Night's Dream ransomed the summer. Set in the fizzy, elegant era of Downton Abbey, it provided one of the funniest, liveliest and most joyous evenings around. The show was both welcoming to Shakespeare newcomers and a delight for experts, and it boasted a zillion crazed comic bits that somehow never detracted from the play's magic and poetry. There were a slew of memorable performances, too, including a Bottom whose improvisations had the audience howling; a lazy, slow-moving Puck; a quartet of delicious young lovers; and a fairy king and queen as dopey as they were majestic.

For three years, Rick Yaconis's Edge Theatre Company has mounted an eclectic mix of new plays and classics and encouraged the work of local playwrights with an annual Festival of New Plays — one of which gets selected for full production each year. This year, that play was Gifted, a flawed but vivid and thoughtful exploration of the dynamics within a mixed-race family: The protagonist is the teenage son of a widowed white American mother and an Indian father. Edge also mounted an excellent production of the 1960s absurdist comedy House of Blue Leaves; brought in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which caused a stir in New York a couple of years ago; and knocked it out of the park with The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Readers' choice: Denver Center Theatre Company

People often say that if going to the theater were as easy and informal as going to a movie, they'd do it a lot more often. They have this idea that they have to book weeks in advance and then dress to the hilt — but that's not the case at Miners Alley in Golden, a friendly, community-spirited and casual theater with a lineup of pretty serious shows. No one's going to glare at you if you wear jeans and want to take your drink into the auditorium.

Looking for a reason to wear your diamond earrings? At the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, the fashions in the lobby might be almost as interesting as what's on stage — an opera, ballet, maybe a musical. As a bonus, inside the auditorium the sound system is superb, all the sightlines work, you get to sit in the most comfortable seats imaginable, and — if it's an opera you're attending — the translations glide sweetly across the back of the seat in front of you. You're gorgeous. Everyone here is gorgeous. Just sink into that plush seat and enjoy.

Don't be confused by its suburban location: Edge Theatre Company has one of the coolest homes of any theater troupe in the area. There's interesting artwork displayed in the rooms adjoining the lobby — including, on our last visit, a giant fabric pin cushion — and the decor is colorful and inviting. The plays are an interesting mix of modern and classical. So why shouldn't you wear jeans with holes in the knees if you feel like it? Or a tiara and ball gown? Or the tiara with the holey jeans? We guarantee whoever's handing out the tickets in front will be both warm and unfazed.

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