Best Actress in a Musical 2015 | Margie Lamb in Next to Normal | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

The lead in Next to Normal is complex: Diana suffers from bipolar disorder. She's intelligent and funny, but also self-pitying and sometimes nasty as hell. Margie Lamb gave us all the character's complexities in one prickly, scintillating package. She wasn't afraid of being unlikable when necessary, but she also made the audience pity and understand Diana's suffering. Lamb also unleashed a fine, supple voice that was easily up to the difficult score.

As Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Wayne Kennedy gave the comedy its due while also showing the profound sadness beneath Tevye's jovial exterior. He was larger than life, full of passion and vitality, sometimes enraged and sometimes thoughtful, and — as he bargained with God, bickered with his wife, and devised an outrageous plan to free his oldest daughter from an arranged marriage — funny as hell.

The role of Engineer, the profiteering pimp of Miss Saigon, was written for a man, and you could say that Arlene Rapal completely reinvented it. Her version came across as an archetypal figure, a sort of mash-up of the amoral Old Lady of Leonard Bernstein's Candide, who survived through cunning no matter how much trouble she found herself in; the salacious Emcee of Cabaret; and the heartless, endlessly bargaining, titular proto-capitalist of Brecht's Mother Courage. Rapal has terrific poise and presence, and her rendition of the satiric "American Dream" was the highlight of the production.

Playing Donkey, who insists on befriending a reluctant Shrek, Tyrell Rae was a hoot. He posed and preened, whined and threatened, cajoled and charmed, sang his lungs out and, with his cute little hooves, almost trotted away with the entire show. No matter how silly his antics, Donkey always had our sympathy in Shrek, and also somehow maintained a weird off-kilter dignity.

A literary S&M fest involving whips and leather; a one-man piece about sexual predation, rage, forgiveness and understanding; an examination of the very personal way a Boston woman experiences class, power and powerlessness; a wry comedy about two weary fortyish losers falling in love; and a brilliant play about a dead composer (Venus in Fur, All the Rage, Good People, Lucky Me and Charles Ives Take Me Home, respectively) — these were the offerings from Curious Theatre Company in the past year, as the company reaffirmed its primacy in producing fascinating new works, well-acted and mounted with care, passion and integrity.

Readers' choice: Curious Theatre Company

One of those evenings of theater you felt blessed for having experienced, Charles Ives Take Me Home evoked thoughts and emotions you couldn't put into words. A beautiful script, beautifully brought to life by the director and her actors, transcendent and filled with music, the play tells the story of a violinist profoundly influenced by the work of composer Charles Ives and the daughter who, to the violinist's distress, is a dedicated jock. Ives himself makes a ghostly appearance. The play left the audience so entranced that a few members actually resented the applause that broke the silence of that crystalline final moment.

Readers' choice: The Book of Mormon

Rick Padden's Beets isn't a perfect play, but it's an intelligent one that deals with an important and generally forgotten historical topic. During WWII, German prisoners were held in rural Colorado, and many worked on local farms. Set in Berthoud, Beets explores the tense relationships between the locals and the prisoners — in particular, between farmer Fred Hunt, whose son is fighting overseas, and a polite young German who's beginning to take an interest in Hunt's daughter, Anna. Padden has many quietly wise things to say here about rural life, war and forgiveness.

A white suit, worn with a pale lavender shirt and a yellow bow tie. A patterned, slightly darker lavender dress that gently skims slim hips and beautifully complements the shirt. Long strings of beads, men in braces, a woman's cloche hat and a man's boater. Clare Henkel's costumes for The Great Gatsby were so elegantly form-flattering, and moved so beautifully with the actors wearing them, that you half wished for a return to the 1920s.

Courtesy Denver Art Museum

Exhibition-goers in Denver have gotten used to seeing the work of internationally famous artists, from van Gogh to Warhol. Rarely are the examples that wind up here the best efforts of those artists, however. Instead, we often get the middling if still noteworthy exemplars. Such was not the case with Modern Masters: 20th Century Icons From the Albright-Knox Gallery. Not only did the show include some of the biggest names in art show business — Gorky, Pollock, Motherwell and Rothko — but they were each represented by one of their most important works.

Readers' choice: Whales: Giants of the Deep, Denver Museum of Nature & Science

A pilot who's been carrying out air strikes in Iraq and loving the solitary blue of the sky she inhabits is grounded when she becomes pregnant, then tasked with launching drone attacks from the safety of an air-conditioned trailer in the Nevada desert. Between the hours of excruciating boredom she endures and the vivid images of the dead and dying recorded by the drone camera, she begins to break down. Grounded, a brilliantly written, tough-minded exploration of the effect of war on a particular woman, couldn't be more timely, as the issue of PTSD becomes more and more pressing and veterans' organizations discover that the illness is affecting drone operators as well as soldiers in the field. Laura Norman turned in a brilliant, nerve-shattering performance as the Pilot.

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