Best Comedy 2015 | Naughty Bits, Buntport Theater | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

An original piece created by the company itself, Naughty Bits sets up three stories, all involving the famed Roman statue of Hercules — the one that was lovingly restored in the eighteenth century except for one teeny part: his penis. There's a wealthy mansion owner and his sexy, satiric mistress, an eccentric art historian, and a romance novelist who has some problems with real men but is working on a book in which a Lady Louisa falls in love with the statue. These characters all inhabit different time spheres, but their worlds eventually intersect, to insanely comic effect. No one can be as smart, inventive, entertaining and original as Buntport at its best — and the company is at its best here.

With its complex set requirements, numerous characters and thoughtful plot, Ambition Facing West is an ambitious choice for a small company, and BETC did it proud. The play deals with three generations of an immigrant family: Stipan, who leaves Croatia for the States before World War I and marries a fellow immigrant from Italy; his daughter Alma, who changes before our eyes from an idealistic youngster to a no-nonsense businesswoman; and Alma's bored and very American teenage son. The play touched your emotions even as it made you think.

Tarnished by a thousand mediocre high-school and community productions, Fiddler on the Roof seemed a lazy choice for BDT, but under Michael J. Duran's direction, this version was revelatory. You remember Tevye, the poor milkman with five daughters who struggles to keep afloat, the guy who sings "If I Were a Rich Man"? And who all too often comes across like a twinkly-eyed Jewish Santa Claus? This Tevye had depth. And so did everyone else in the talented cast. The staging was great and the songs so well sung that you remembered just how brilliant they are. Best of all, this Fiddler managed to be funny and entertaining while still acknowledging the sorrowful historical currents beneath the folktale.

The daughter of a professional violinist, Laura is a talented basketball player, all jock and uninterested in music. Needless to say, her dad doesn't appreciate her talent. As Laura, Kate Berry Mann looked like an athlete and had all the sports moves down pat, including a complicated sequence in which her thumping basketball illustrated the musical terms by which her father lives: She dribbled, bounced and passed as he called out: Pizzicato. Arco. Fortissimo. Mann was called on to grow up during the course of the show; she was completely convincing as a gangly teenager and just as convincing as a hard-voiced, take-no-prisoners high-school coach, all the while doing justice to Laura's inner life — the defiance and resignation, the baffled longing for her father's approval.

After creating many luminous roles, Karen LaMoureaux vanished from local stages for several years. So it was a delight to see her back for the role of Josephina, an Italian immigrant trying to raise her daughter and support her husband in a country whose culture she found baffling, in Ambition Facing West. LaMoureaux gave this relatively small role a sad, bitter power that made it memorable.

Dave Belden played John Starr — the narrowly focused and sometimes unpleasant violinist whose obsession with music blinds him to his living daughter's hunger for affection — with quiet conviction in Charles Ives Take Me Home. He also played the violin so beautifully that the instrument itself spoke, and man and music became one, lending depth and intensity to a transcendent script. It's rare these days to leave a theater feeling that you've actually heard the inexpressible expressed, but that's what Belden did for Curious audiences.

Jim Hunt always works with intelligence, insight, warmth and charm. But in playing the ghostly composer in Charles Ives Take Me Home, Hunt outdid himself. He was funny and wry; he was soulful. He even managed to mock-play the piano convincingly in a musical duet with genuine musician Dave Belden — a feat much harder than most non-actors realize. Most of all, his Ives was a generous font of wisdom, insight and kindness.

Christy Montour-Larson's shows are always worth seeing, but something particularly magical happens when this skilled director takes on a play about art. She did this three years ago with Red, about painter Mark Rothko, and again last year. Beautifully staged and acted, Charles Ives Take Me Home is all about music and composition. In performance, you could feel the subtlety and specificity with which Montour-Larson worked with her actors to explore the script and bring it to vivid life.

Directed by Bruce Sevy, Animal Crackers was a romp of a musical, a trifle, a bright, funny nothing full of bad puns, visual jokes and silly stunts. And between the elaborate set, the innumerable costumes, the dippy props, the crazy sound requirements and — not least — the very large cast, it must have taken a zillion painstaking rehearsals to perfect the timing and get the jokes delivered for maximum impact. The cast, which included Jonathan Brody, Jonathan Randell Silver and Jim Ferris impersonating the Marx Brothers, worked together brilliantly, each member knowing exactly when to hog the spotlight and when to give it up, maintaining a high energy level and responding with open appreciation to the others' antics.

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.

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