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Aurora Fox Arts Center

There's been a bit of an identity crisis at the shabby, comfy old Fox over the past year — a handful of fantastic shows, as well as a couple that completely misfired. This summer, a new executive producer, Helen R. Murray, takes over, and her hire says a lot for Aurora's commitment to theater and the arts. An actor and writer, Murray founded The Hub in Fairfax, Virginia, a decade ago. She's a multi-award winner, known for working with playwrights and commissioning new plays. Before Murray takes the reins, however, the Fox will present Passing Strange, an exuberant and unusual musical by songwriters Stew and Heidi Rodewald that won the kind of praise you rarely hear from East Coast critics. Sounds like a fitting way to lower the curtain on the Fox's most recent act and prepare for the next.

Courtesy Buntport Theater Facebook page

You've got out-of-town guests who think Denver's still a sleepy cowtown? Or perhaps a onetime cowtown that's been leached of all individuality and character by developers? Take them to Buntport for one of the five-member writer-actor troupe's original plays. The company occupies a small, friendly, unpretentious playing space which it uses with incredible ingenuity, and we promise you'll have an evening packed with wit, insight and surprise that's funny as hell, completely unexpected, but also thought-provoking and often deep. We also promise that you won't see anything like this anywhere else — not in London, New York, Chicago or Podunk, Iowa.

A number of local theaters have taken up the flag for civil, women's, gay and lesbian, racial and immigrant rights in these murky and difficult times, but it's fair to say that Curious, under artistic director Chip Walton, got there first, taking risks and talking politics under the slogan "No Guts, No Story." At twenty, Curious continues to tackle new, grown-up challenges, without presenting predictable, preachy work. Through April 15, it's offering Tony Kushner's The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures. Remember the Lakewood baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple, a case that's gone all the way to the Supreme Court? Come September, Curious will stage The Cake, by up-and-coming playwright Bekah Brunstetter. "Faith, family and frosting collide in this timely new comedy," Curious hints. Sounds delicious...and very adult.

Readers' Choice: Curious Theatre Company

Stan Obert
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance's production of "Granny Dances to a Holiday Drum."

Children's theater is at its worst around the holidays: How many times can you take the kids to see A Christmas Carol without turning into Scrooge? Cleo Parker Robinson Dance's annual Granny Dances to a Holiday Drum defies the odds; it's a family-friendly, multi-generational, multicultural holiday extravaganza about an aging dancer sharing with her grandchildren her memories of performing around the globe. The production is jam-packed with myths from more than a dozen cultures that reflect on the winter holiday season. And like all Cleo Parker Robinson performances, it's a perfect high-energy mix of song, dance and acting that will keep kids of all ages engaged and learning at the same time.

Readers' Choice: Arvada 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.

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."

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.

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.

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