The exception that proves the rule

BDT Stage explores the ups and downs of mid-life

Mid-Life 2 laments the tribulations of getting older.

In terms of all-time great chestnuts, right up there with, “A stitch in time saves nine,” and, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia,” is, “It is the exception that proves the rule.”

On dozens of occasions over the years, I’ve raved to acquaintances new and old about Boulder’s dinner theatre, BDT Stage. My praise is invariably met with surprise if not outright disbelief. This is because dinner theater in general suffers from a bad reputation, one that, in my humble opinion, is often well-deserved. Good dinner theater, let alone consistently outstanding dinner theater, is as rare as a vegan who never tells anyone they’re vegan, which makes BDT Stage, with its nearly four decades of theatrical virtuosity, the shining exception to the otherwise depressing rule, as well as a true Boulder boon.

Where many lesser dinner theaters employ amateur or only-just-barely-professional actors and scrimp on production values, BDT Stage prides itself on the talent and stability of its troupe, and from the costumes in Cats to making it rain indoors for Singin’ in the Rain, the money is always up on stage for audiences to see.

Mid-Life 2 (#WhatDidIComeInHereFor?) showcases BDT Stage’s casting, directing and producing excellence. The all-star ensemble of Scott Beyette, Bren. Eyestone Burron, Brian Burron, Wayne Kennedy, Barb Reeves and Tracy Warren fit their roles hand-in-glove and complement one another in appearance and acting style. As it does for every production, BDT Stage’s house band, led by Conductor Neal Dunfee, cranks out the melodies with moxie. Mid-Life 2 looks great, too, thanks to simple, appropriate costuming by Linda Morken and Directors Bob Walton and Jim Walton’s judicious use of the rotating stage to minimize scene-change times in a show with a ton of scene changes.

The Waltons, who not only direct Mid-Life 2 but also created and wrote this world premiere, tout it as a show for all ages, not just 40-something and up. After all, they note, there are a lot of college or even high school kids who walk into a room, stop and wonder, “What did I come in here for?”

While it may be true that Mid-Life 2 is a treat for mid-lifers of all ages, it was the target demographic on the night I attended that responded most positively. The grey-haired, bifocal-wearing crowd seemed to love it. They laughed loudly and often, and the intermission air was filled with amused admissions of seeing themselves in the skits on stage.

I, however, found myself in the underwhelmed minority. Despite enjoying the Waltons’ first Mid-Life musical, Mid-Life 2 just didn’t do it for me. The BDT Stage cast and crew delivered their customary stellar work, so there’s no denying that it was the material that left me unexpectedly cold.

Mid-Life 2 is a pure musical revue that contains no plot whatsoever. Each scene is a standalone sketch. For this style of show to succeed, pretty much every scene needs to impress, and unfortunately many of Mid-Life 2’s do not.

Some, like the one about Viagra, feel like throwbacks to the Borscht Belt comedy stylings of Henny Youngman or Shecky Greene, but not in a good way. Others are instantly forgettable, which might actually be worse.

Without a plot, thematic consistency remains the only fabric holding Mid-Life 2 together. Here again the Waltons stumble. The opening number is a litany of mid-life experiences, each of which is termed a “crisis.” The thing is, being in mid-life in and of itself is not a crisis. It is how one responds to the daunting realities of mid-life — for instance, by getting loads of plastic surgery, buying a sports car or exclusively dating 23-year-olds — that turns it into a crisis. And, frankly, those types of true mid-life crisis behaviors would have served as funnier fodder for Mid-Life 2.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the show’s thematic spottiness, a significant percentage of the musical numbers aren’t even predicated on being in mid-life. In particular, non-traditional weddings, people who really like Siri and wishing to forget embarrassing incidents from our pasts are most definitely not experiences exclusive to mid-lifers.

I applaud BDT Stage for being courageous enough not to produce only the expected, the tried and true. As a rule, BDT Stage’s judgement about new musicals has been impeccable. Mid-Life 2, however, is the rarest exception to that rule.

On the Bill: Mid-Life 2. BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 303-449-6000, Through Nov. 12. Tickets $40 and up.

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