Curtain calls

Three local stage productions to catch or skip

The Secret Garden runs through June 16 at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown. Credit: The Creative Agency

As snow fell unexpectedly in late April, what better refuge from the chill than the warm embrace of the theater? The cold weather provided an excellent excuse to stay indoors and enjoy a variety of productions in Denver, Lafayette and Johnstown. Here’s what worked — and what needed work. 

Delightfully disheveled

Kate Hamill’s Emma is a vibrant adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel by the same name, presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company. Directed by Meredith McDonough, this production uses contemporary music and lively choreography by Emily Michaels King to create a Regency setting that feels distinctively modern — think Bridgerton meets Clueless

The play follows the misguided matchmaking efforts of Emma Woodhouse (Amelia Pedlow), a wealthy and clever young woman in early 19th-century England. Despite her confidence in her abilities, Emma’s actions lead to romantic misadventures, ultimately teaching her lessons about love.

Pedlow excels as Emma, mastering the balance of likability and meddlesome behavior. Her relationship with George Knightley (Carman Lacivita) is friendly but never convincingly romantic. The supporting cast, including Samantha Steinmetz as delightfully naïve Harriet and Annie Barbour in dual roles as the misunderstood Jane Fairfax and elderly Mrs. Bates, add their singular spark to the ensemble’s chemistry. Lex Liang’s smart and functional scenic design, a light-up frame angled over the play’s action with a picturesque country background behind, gives the impression that everything is about to fall apart.

Even when Hamill’s script overindulges in meta-theatrical humor and repetitive gags, McDonough adeptly manages the tempo of this screwball comedy, making Emma an energetic, albeit slightly uneven, modern update of Austen’s work.

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ON STAGE: Emma. Through May 5, Wolf Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th St., Denver. $40-$103

Content overload 

Theater Company of Lafayette presents a modern adaptation of Molière’s The Misanthrope, reimagining the classic satire for the social media age. Director Brett Landis’ adaptation, while intriguing, stumbles in execution. The play stars Alceste (Omar Garces Alcala), who despises the superficiality of social media interactions yet finds himself in love with Célimène (Miranda Vargas), a popular social media influencer. 

Hannah Richards’ costumes strike a balance between modern chic and classic sophistication, while Frank Landis’ scenic design incorporates elements of French Rococo into a contemporary setting. Although visually appealing, the combination feels more disjointed than cohesive, with the bright, simplistic set pieces taking away from the deeper thematic content. 

The use of Richard Wilbur’s translation in this modern setting is a double-edged sword; while it preserves the lyrical quality of Molière’s verse, it frequently clashes with the setting, making the dialogue seem out of place. While the vision reflects our digital age, The Misanthrope falls short of its ambitious concept.

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ON Stage: The Misanthrope. Through May 5, Theater Company of Lafayette, 300 E. Simpson. $25

New blooms

The Secret Garden at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is a touching, transformative journey through grief and redemption. Directed with a delicate yet commanding hand by Shelly Gaza, who recently helmed the charming A Midsummer’s Night Dream, this production emphasizes the classic’s themes of loss and healing.

Based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel, The Secret Garden tells the story of Mary Lennox (Alianna Glorioso/Elinor Rodgers), a young girl sent to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven (Patric Case), in a secluded manor in Yorkshire after the death of her parents. When Mary discovers a neglected garden on the estate, she and her sickly cousin Colin (Oliver Harrlson/Gus Gaza) embark on a journey guided by the garden’s magical spirits from Mary’s past. 

Casey Kearns’ masterful set design uses layers and textures to visually narrate the unfolding emotional landscapes, with Vance McKenzie’s lighting playing a crucial role in enhancing the magical elements of the garden. Deb Faber’s costumes are meticulously crafted, and Katie Hughes’ musical direction ensures that Lucy Simon’s score envelops the audience with the sounds of eight polished live musicians and 19 cast members. 

The performances are uniformly strong. Case offers a poignant portrayal as he mourns his dead wife, Lily (MaryAnn Laurie). While Laurie is mostly hidden behind a shadowy scrim — Gaza stages the spirits that haunt the characters behind a screen upstage, just out of reach — her lovely voice carries, and Laurie’s chemistry with Case is palpable. 

The only questionable sequence comes in the second act, when choreographer Adria Maria directs the cast to perform an “Indian healing spell” in “Come Spirit, Come Charm,” which is scripted but culturally incoherent. Aside from this minor misstep, The Secret Garden at the Candlelight is a triumph, melding heartache with hope in a visually stunning and emotionally resonant performance. 

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ON STAGE: The Secret Garden. Through June 16, Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown. $45-$83


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