Curtain calls

Three local stage productions to catch or skip

Vintage Theatre, DCPA and more: Colorado shows to catch or skip
Running at Aurora’s Vintage Theatre through June 9, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee shines with equal parts humor and heart. Credit: Matthew Gale

As April showers bring May flowers, Denver’s theatrical scene is in full bloom. From a musical comedy to two historical dramas, here’s a closer look at what worked — and what needed work.

Champion charm

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Vintage Theatre is a hilarious musical that captures the quirks and quandaries of middle schoolers as they navigate a spelling championship. Directed by Carter Edward Smith in his directorial debut, the production is largely successful thanks to a tight-knit cast that shines even during understudy changes. (Michael Spahn, who filled in for Cal Meakins as Leaf Coneybear on opening night, delivered an outstanding performance that showcased the cast’s adaptability.) 

Ava Arangua Francis as Oliva Ostrovsky and Grant Bowman as William Barfée shine with palpable chemistry. Francis’ earnest rendition of “The I Love You Song” emerges as the emotional high point. Not all performances were as strong; Lily Horst as Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre struggled with clarity due to her character’s lisp, and Charlotte Quinn’s portrayal of Marcy Park felt overly stiff at times. 

Set in Putnam Valley Middle School, Kortney Hanson’s simple but effective two-story set serves as a charming backdrop to the spellers’ stories. Joyce Cole’s choreography adds a layer of pizzazz, particularly during group numbers where the spellers’ idiosyncrasies are on full display.

The interactive element of the production, in which audience members compete in the bee alongside the cast, fosters a sense of community. It also highlights the cast’s improvisational abilities, particularly Anna Hardcastle and Luke Rahmsdorff-Terry, whose roles as bee hosts blend scripted and spontaneous interactions. Though the blocking underutilizes the second level of the scenic design, the overall pacing and immersive quality create a delightful theater experience that appeals to both the heart and the funny bone.

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ON STAGE: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Through June 9, Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora. $20-$38

Business bros

Making its regional premiere at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, The Lehman Trilogyexplores the rise and fall of the Lehman Brothers. Beginning in 1847 at the family’s clothing shop in Alabama, the play spans 163 years, exploring the ambitions and consequences that shaped not only a family but also the nation’s economic landscape. 

Upon entering the theater, the audience is greeted with Reid Thompson’s minimalist set design — two turntables and a sparse arrangement of black boxes that struggle to convey the vast span of time and complexity of events depicted in the play. This austere setup places a heavy burden on the script and three actors, who must evoke centuries of history without the aid of visually compelling scenery.

Matthew Boston, Sasha Roiz and Tasso Feldman give powerful performances, portraying multiple characters across generations with dynamic energy throughout the play’s three-hour-plus runtime. Their vocal and physical transformations are commendable, thanks to Jeffrey Parker’s meticulous vocal coaching, which gives each historical figure a distinct identity. 

However, the production, directed by Margot Bordelon, often feels drawn out, making the historically rich narrative feel more like a dramatized reading of Wikipedia than a lively theatrical experience. While the performances are sharp, and Jiyoun Chang’s lighting design adds atmospheric depth, the execution could benefit from a more visually appealing presentation to keep the audience engaged throughout its lengthy runtime.

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ON STAGE: The Lehman Trilogy. Through June 2, Denver Center for the Performing Arts – Kilstrom Theatre, 1101 13th St., Denver. $40-$93

Luminous tragedy

At Firehouse Theater Company, These Shining Lives offers a gripping yet uneven portrayal of the real-life tragedy of the so-called “Radium Girls” in the 1920s. This production, directed by Kate Poling, chronicles the harrowing experiences of four women who fight for justice after becoming radium poisoned while working at The Radium Dial Company. 

Jeff Jesmer, Megan Davis and Samantha Piel collaborated to create the set, which effectively captures the contrast between oppressive factory floors and intimate domestic scenes. While Rick Reid’s clock projection adds to the narrative by flashing important information about the setting and era, Poling’s staging struggles with the confines of the small theater space, resulting in static scenes, including multiple sequences staged on the ground that are difficult to see if you aren’t in the front row. 

The ensemble cast gives heartfelt performances, and the four women — Rachel Barkalow, Babs Karney, Gabby Mann and Shyan Rivera — have strong chemistry together. However, as the drama progresses, their performances become overly dramatic, dulling the emotional impact. 

While the direction strongly conveys the historical significance of the women’s story, the overall pacing and staging lack dynamism. Potentially effective scenes are hampered by limited movement and monotonous delivery; however, for melodrama fans, These Shining Lives is a sobering reminder of the human costs of industry progress. 

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ON STAGE: These Shining Lives. Through June 8, Firehouse Theatre Company, Colorado Free University – John Hand Theater, 7653 E. 1st Place, Denver. $15-$27


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