Lone Tree Arts Center
Courtesy Lone Tree Arts Center Facebook page

Every now and then, while watching a swift new play about clever young people or a piece that strains to be socially and politically relevant, we long to hear the strong, sure and deeply musical voice of August Wilson, one of America's foremost playwrights, chronicler of the black experience, and creator of an extraordinary community of black folks in his ten-part Pittsburgh cycle. Fences, sixth in the cycle, tells the story of Troy, a flawed and difficult man newly released from prison and struggling to care for his family. It's coming in April 2018 to the Lone Tree Arts Center, a venue whose productions, though few and far between, are always professional and meticulous.

We always like finding a playwright who's rising steadily through the ranks and just might become one of the next major names in theater. Bekah Brunstetter — the same Bekah Brunstetter whose The Cake will be showing at Curious Theatre in the fall — wrote Going to a Place Where You Already Are, which the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company will present starting April 12 at the Dairy Arts Center. The play begins with a couple cutting up in church during a funeral; these aren't teenage kids, but folks in their seventies, and the script is full of humor and heart.

betc.org

Denver Center Theatre Company

What a privilege to see The Who's Tommy the musical based on the band's iconic 1969 album about a boy who retreats into silence after a traumatic event and rediscovers himself through his genius for pinball — directed by Britisher Sam Buntrock. That's the same Sam Buntrock whose amazing Frankenstein created all kinds of depth and meaning through the extraordinary technical capabilities of the Denver Center two years ago. What will he do with pinball? We're all humming, "See me, feel me, touch me, heal me" in anticipation of the show, which opens at the Denver Center April 20.

Best Reason to Subscribe to the DCPA Next Season

Chris Coleman

The Denver Center is the behemoth of the performing arts scene. When there's excitement and genuine artistry happening there, it vitalizes the entire community. When the offerings feel stale, hackneyed or half-hearted, a lot of energy leaches away. Chris Coleman, longtime artistic director for Portland Center Stage, has been hired to head the DCPA Theatre Company and will start his job in May. We can't predict what he'll do — he's currently feeling out both the city and the organization — but interviews indicate that he's smart, eclectic, confident and energetic, likes both classic and contemporary plays, finds the center's immersive pieces of the past two years impressive, and is fond of musicals. "I think what television and film do well is photographic, super-naturalistic," he told us. "What I want is something more theatrical or imaginative, something that asks the audience to finish the story."

denvercenter.org

Best Resurrection of an Improv Show
Courtesy of Black Actors Guild

After an almost yearlong hiatus, the Black Actors Guild returned last fall with "Show Ya Teef," the monthly improv night that first put this group of young artists on the map. Formed in 2009 by classmates then attending the Denver School of the Arts, the Black Actors Guild quickly earned a reputation beyond the student body, putting on plays, hosting standup comedy nights and offering its now-famed improv sets in venues across the city. With hundreds of shows under its collective belt, today the ever-expanding troupe of comedians, actors, playwrights and musicians displays a winning mix of humor and realism, youthful optimism and cool cynicism. Catch the seasoned performers on the intimate stage of the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse, where they take on topics such as politics, identity, social media, the environment and interpersonal relationships...all with good humor.

facebook.com/blkactorsguild

Best Comedy Venue
elcharrito.net

For years, El Charrito's erstwhile dining room lay dormant, a storage area that its patrons mostly ignored. But thanks to the joint efforts of local comic Timmi Lasley and proprietor Matt Orrin, the dusty little dive bar has turned into a second home for Denver's standup community, and the host venue for several of its best comedian-produced showcases. From the goofy experimentation of theme shows like Nerd Roast, Designated Drunkard and We Still Like You to improv, sketch and even a dystopian live podcast, El Charrito's Comedy RoomRoom has become an indispensable component of the scene. With audiences regularly outnumbering available seats these days, it's safe to say that Orrin and Lasley's efforts have paid off.

Lion's Lair
Jon Solomon

Denver is positively lousy with comedy open mics; nary a day goes by without an opportunity for some aspiring standup to get stage time. That wasn't the case a dozen years ago, however, when Troy Baxley founded the weekly Monday night open mic at the Lion's Lair, creating the city's first and only opportunity for local comics to practice their craft away from the watchful eye of the clubs. Though the hosts have changed often over the years, the Lion's Lair mic has thrived during Denver's comedy boomlet, growing without ever losing track of its essential chaotic nature. Currently hosted by Roger Norquist and Westword's own Byron Graham, it's still the best place for comedy nerds to get their weekly dose of weird — including, but not limited to, heckler-shaming chants, standup duels and puppet parties. Sign-up begins every Monday at 10 p.m.

Readers' Choice: Comedy Works Downtown

The Black Buzzard
Courtesy Oskar Blues Black Buzzard Facebook page

The newest resident on one of downtown's most bustling corners, Oskar Blues's Black Buzzard defined itself early by forging relationships with local creatives, including a strong partnership with Denver standup supergroup the Pussy Bros. Boasting a cavernous subterranean stage with great sound, frothy brews and twice-weekly comedy shows, the Buzzard has proven a godsend for both the city's hardworking comedians and the crowds who love them. Don't miss Christie Buchele's rotating roster of weekly standup showcases, every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m.

Best Comedy Show
Scot Lentz

Before Lucha Libre & Laughs marks its fifth anniversary in June, we're presenting another award to this outfit that just keeps expanding on its already heavyweight charms. For the sadly uninitiated, Lucha Libre & Laughs combines standup with gravity-defying pro wrestling to the delight of a loyal, bloodthirsty crowd. In addition to booking brawny lineups on the stage and in the ring, producer Nick Gossert handles promotions and referees the matches in theatrically bumbling fashion. The year ahead promises even more ringside domination as Gossert goes to the mat with new mediums while still maintaining the mark-pummeling splendor that Denver comedy fans have come to know and love.

Best Activist Musician
Anthony Camera

Wheelchair Sports Camp MC Kalyn Heffernan has had a busy year. In addition to aggressively touring North America with her band, she's also been speaking out against the border wall between the United States and Mexico, drumming up support for accessible venues, decrying economic injustice, and fighting for access to health care for all. She led a multi-day sit-in at Senator Cory Gardner's office in June, trying to persuade the Republican to vote against a GOP repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and recently took City Councilman Albus Brooks to task over gentrification.

wheelchairsportscamp.co

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