Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical 2016 | Christina Sajous in The 12 | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

While the twelve disciples waver and argue in The 12, Mary Magdalene erupts into the room. The men despise her as a woman and a prostitute, but she is the strongest among them, and shares none of their religious uncertainty. Christina Sajous has an amazing voice and presence, and she was so filled with power and passion as Mary that when she sang, "Where were all of you when he hung there and died?," she seemed to evoke all the cruelty and suffering in the world.

Elizabeth, the fiancée of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, is by her own description an adorable madcap, glamorous and lively but — alas, poor Frederick! — intensely touch-averse. In short, she's one of those vamping, narcissistic Hollywood-style divas who's a gift for any actress to play. Cashelle Butler played her to the hilt, gifting the role with a fine voice and a lovely, rich vitality.

Scott Beyette is in many ways the heart of BDT Stage. He acts, sings and dances. He directs. He choreographs. He can play leading men or weird, eccentric characters with equal conviction and aplomb. And in Mary Poppins, he showed he could fly. His Bert was a more shaded character than Dick Van Dyke's cheery Cockney in the famous film. Sure, Beyette's Bert was chipper, but there were depths and shadows to his interpretation, and it seemed clear that he understood with sadness that his quiet, unstated love for the magical nanny could never be requited.

The funniest bit in Young Frankenstein is an inspired version of Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz," in which the Monster — convincingly played by TJ Hogle as a big, green, howling, blubbery-voiced mess — learns to dance with the help of several other characters. He becomes more suave and lithe with every tap-dancing step, and here begins his transformation into a smooth, English-accented sophisticate, worthy of a lady's love. Hogle handled the transformation beautifully and sang of his "Deep Love" in a fine, melting tenor.

Directed and choreographed with crackling energy by Nick Sugar, with musical direction by the peerless Donna Kolpan Debreceni and ingenious costumes, set design and special effects — not to mention a fabulous cast — the Town Hall's Young Frankenstein was silly, funny, high-spirited and an all-around good time. We'd put it up against the New York revival — for which tickets ran as high as $450 — any day.

We've enjoyed an unusually large number of fine, interesting, new and unorthodox plays in area theaters this year, but images from one production keep recurring in memory: Terry Johnson's brilliant Hysteria. It's a hilarious farce complete with multiple doors, unexpected exits and entrances, ridiculous misunderstandings, silly accents, a man without his pants and a naked woman in a closet. But it's set in London just before World War II; the protagonist is a dying Sigmund Freud, and a strange young woman presents him with an accusation that may invalidate his life's work. He also receives a visit from Salvador Dalí. So naturally, all kinds of absurdist and evocative imagery gets introduced. Snails and mucus. Sex and touch aversion. Salt, semen and bird shit. Phallic statues. Swans and starlings. And, of course, a melting clock, a roaring train and solid objects that turn to rubber. There are levels on levels of meaning here, but the play isn't dense or hard to watch; it's funny, surprising, moving and absorbing throughout — as well as deeply sad. Michael Stricker directed with a sure hand, the cast was terrific, the set beautifully detailed and the special effects mind-boggling. Hysteria did exactly what theater is meant to do: It set the imagination soaring.

Readers' choice: The Book of Mormon

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company deserves accolades for its light, airy and beautiful As You Like It alone, as well as for All the Way, a fascinating dissection of Lyndon B. Johnson's struggle to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress (and a play that should be required viewing for everyone who intends to vote this fall). But those weren't the company's only fine achievements. There was also Theresa Rebeck's clever, provocative and entertaining The Nest, a play about a venerable bar inspired, in part, by Denver's legendary My Brother's Bar. Robert Schenkkan, who wrote All the Way, also had the daring idea of creating a musical called The 12 depicting the gathering of the disciples after the crucifixion, and the company gave it a stunning production. Another historical piece, One Night in Miami, imagined Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, singer-entrepreneur Sam Cooke, and famed NFL running back Jim Brown celebrating in a hotel room after Clay's victory over Sonny Liston; the two-person one-act Fade told the story of the difficulties faced by a Latina hired as a Hollywood television writer and her friendship with the janitor who cleans her office. And then Tribes, which had a partially deaf protagonist, explored profound questions about communication — verbal, silent, physical, written — and the function of sound in our lives, as well as the meaning of family and community. Artistic director Kent Thompson has been supporting new work, creating on-stage diversity and hiring women and minority playwrights since his 2005 arrival in Denver, and year by year his vision solidifies and bears more interesting fruit.

Readers' choice: The Buell Theatre

The Denver Actors Fund was created in 2013 by John Moore to support theater people experiencing situational medical needs with modest amounts of money and volunteer help that ranges from pet-sitting to construction to meal delivery. So far the fund has distributed around $15,000. It's hard to pick only one example from the group's many good deeds, but one of the year's prominent success stories involves talented actor-singer Daniel Langhoff, who most recently starred in Next to Normal at Town Hall and Miners Alley's Pump Boys and Dinettes. Langhoff, diagnosed with colon cancer a few months after his wife, Rebecca Joseph, gave birth to their daughter, Clara, incurred costs that weren't fully covered by insurance. The fund approved a gift of $2,000 to help with bills, and photographer Laura Mathews Siebert raised an additional $1,500 with an all-day shoot. "So many thanks are owed," Langhoff wrote on the DAF website. "And I'm happy to spend the rest of my life giving them."

Hillary Clinton's presidential run has sparked a lot of discussion about feminism, with many younger women defecting to Bernie Sanders and older ones accusing their younger counterparts of betraying the cause — all of this accompanied by oft-anguished attempts to define just what feminism is. The Nest, Theresa Rebeck's play about the fate of a fabled bar, was written a year ago — it began life at the New Play Summit — but it's very timely. It begins with a man and woman arguing (actually, he's mansplaining) until the temperature rises and the woman tosses her basket of fries at the man's face. As soon as the couple leaves, bar regulars start bickering about who won the quarrel, and it's clear the men see it entirely differently than do the women. The Nest is a terrific conversation-starter, passionate but not didactic, very clever, and as funny as it is thought-provoking.

Female-identified kids ages eight to eighteen are embraced at Girls Rock Denver, a summer camp aimed at teaching young people to play music together. Campers learn to play an instrument, create a band, write a song and then perform together on stage — all in the short span of a week. The camp is extremely successful at teaching the art of putting a band together, but through informative workshops, female-centered music-history lessons and guest appearances by local and national rock stars, Girls Rock Denver has also become a place where feminism starts early. This summer camp is truly like no other: Future rockers and beatmakers learn directly from local musicians, rappers, DJs, venue owners and audio engineers who are out working in the music industry every day, and the campers bring that experience back in the form of lessons, games, workshops and conversation. At Girls Rock Denver, first-time musicians get to learn how to play an instrument and are given the tools to smash gender stereotypes, all in the same place.

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