Theater openings are off to a fast start in January

If the flurry of excitement and variety we're being offered in January is any indication, this is going to be an amazing year for theater.

The month opens on a light note: a 1930s Noel Coward play set in the big-haired 1980s. This isn't the kind of interpretation you expect for Coward, not even for a play as frivolous, licentious and farcical as Present Laughter. But if anyone can pull it off (no pun intended), it's the very English director Richard Pegg, who opens the show Friday, January 6, at Miners Alley. For more information, call 303-935-3044 or go to

Dearly Departed starts a run at the John Hand the next day, January 7. For years, we thought director John Ashton owned this dopey, trash-littered, alcohol-soused, Southern-fried play because his 1992 production, original cast almost intact, kept popping up in various places like one of those smiley round-bottomed dolls you just can't keep down -- and if it was a bit battered around the edges, it was just as funny every time. Now Spotlight Theater Company director Luke Allen Terry has taken his hand to it, and we'll see what he does. Find more information here.

The following week, the big guns come roaring in. You may remember news articles about the rape of a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl, Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, by several U.S. soldiers, who afterwards killed her, her parents and her six-year-old sister, and set her body afire. Private Steven Green, who instigated the crime, has been sentenced to life in prison. Green is the inspiration for the central character in Bill Cain's 9 Circles, a play that won the Harold and Mimi Steinberg award and utilizes Dante's Inferno as a structural device. 9 Circles receives its first Colorado production at Curious Theatre -- long a dedicated explorer of the human condition -- on Thursday, January 12. For more information, call 303-623-0524 or go to

On the same night, The Baby Dance opens at the John Hand. The relatively new Silhouette Theatre Company may still be finding its feet, but it's bringing in interesting material. In Jane Anderson's play, an upper-middle-class couple plans to adopt a baby from a poverty-stricken family in Louisiana. The clash of classes should be interesting -- perhaps even more now than in the early '90s, when Baby Dance was written, because Americans have become so acutely aware of class realities these days. Critics found the play flawed, but also interesting, sad and funny. Among other impressive entries on Anderson's resume is the mordantly satiric TV movie The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom. How can anyone resist? For more information, call 303-999-9143 or go to

We know the Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League will make us see the story of The Elephant Man -- that anguished, isolated human being who became an attraction in Victorian freak shows -- in an entirely new light. It's the kind of thing that Phamaly does so brilliantly as a company. The show opens January 12 at the Aurora Fox; call 303-739-1970 or go to for details.

And there's one more important opening on January 12: Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale, which depicts the struggle of a monstrously obese gay man to reconcile with his estranged daughter. He's visited by, among others, his ex-wife and a Mormon missionary. This man is neither self-pitying nor a navel searcher -- and he isn't brave and wonderful, either. Just quietly in search of meaning, and very, very human. The Whale received a reading last spring at the Denver Center Theatre Company's New Play Summit, and has since won an Obie. For more information, call 303-893-4100 or go to

As everyone knows, the Two Things You Don't Talk About At Dinner are religion and politics. But when a very conventional Jewish matron invites an evangelical Christian, a moody Buddhist teenager and a longtime Palestinian friend to her Seder, what else can dominate the discussion? There are comic elements to Lisa Loomer's play -- which also was read during the New Play Summit -- and lots of warm Jewish humor. But there are bombshells, too, and enough deadly serious currents running beneath the surface to spark dozens of dinner-table conversations. The production opens January 20 at the Denver Center; for more information, call 303-893-4100.

There was a radiant production of Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer-winning Ruined at the Denver Center last year, so anticipation for Crumbs From the Table of Joy, which opens at the Aurora Fox on January 27, is running high. This much earlier play received mixed reviews when it opened, but it's always illuminating to watch the development of a major writing talent over time. For details, call 303-739-1970 or go to

This is what we know about The Three Faces of Dr. Crippen, mounted by the new company the Catamounts (new in Colorado as of last year, anyway; the founders had been doing their thing in Chicago for a decade). The play is about the famous Victorian doctor convicted of poisoning his wife, whose body was found sans bones and inner organs. It is, according to critics, grotesque, comic, chilling and vaudevillian; it will be fascinating to see what the Catamounts make of it. You can find out at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder starting January 26; the show transfers to Buntport on February 3. And in case you care, some forensics experts, along with Crippen's surviving family, are raising questions about his guilt. For details, call 720-468-0487 or go to

Spark Theatre has put together a piece called Casual Encounters/Missed Connections based on Craigslist ads that will open January 27; call 720-346-7396 or go to for more information. And The Importance of Being Earnest -- directed by Rod A. Lansberry, who's best known for his big musicals -- previews at the Arvada Center on January 20. For more info, call 720-898-7200 or go to

Musicals? Bring It On, based on the calorie-free but very entertaining movie that starred Kirsten Dunst, opens at the Denver Center on January 10. There may not be much depth, but expect lots of exuberant and acrobatic dancing. For more information, call 303-893-9582 or go to The Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton has A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum starting January 13; it's directed by Robert Wells, with Nick Sugar choreographing and musical direction by the irrepressible Donna Debreceni. For details, call 303-794-2787 or go to

And until February 18, you can still hear the gorgeous singing in Boulder Dinner Theatre's luminous Phantom; read my review here.

Don't even think of pausing for breath. We have a hunch that February's going to be just as exhausting.

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