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Best of Art and Entertainment: Life's Pleasures


Best Cheap Friday Night Date

Art openings across town
Business of Art Center, Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts, UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art, The Bridge Gallery, Commonwheel Gallery, the Fine Arts Center

Trust me. You'll find the most interesting crowds, the best free eats and the most challenging and stimulating entertainment of the visual variety at the regular Friday night art openings around town. You can wander in at your own pace -- no worries about missing the opening curtain or tripping over feet in the dark -- and stay as long as you wish. What Colorado Springs lacks in the availability of, say, live music venues, it more than makes up for in the richness and variety of its professional artists and wonderfully curated shows. The work is usually for sale at very reasonable prices. Go out and support your local artists and see where art lives in Colorado Springs. (KCE)

Best Nurturer of Local Talent
Martile Rowland
Artistic Director, Opera Theater of the Rockies

Long heralded as the Springs most important performer, opera diva Martile Rowland has in recent years turned her attention to staging full operatic productions in her beloved hometown, featuring local and regional talent. This year, her Opera Theater of the Rockies production of The Ballad of Baby Doe was a triumph of vocal agility, gorgeous costuming and lush staging. Rowland is committed to finding the best vocal talents in the region and teaching them everything she knows. Her noble venture is our gain. (KCE)

Best Arts Fundraiser
Bowling for the Arts
Business of Art Center, Manitou Springs

If Andy Warhol had hosted Bowling for Dollars, it probably would have been akin to this year's Business of Art Center's (BAC) annual fundraiser. Instead of the usual stuffy come-to-a-party-and-donate-some-cash approach, the folks at the BAC decided to take the pinheads bowling. Overwhelmingly successful, this first-time event raised over $10,000 in one evening. What's more, it allowed local businesses, artists and organizations to mingle, drink bad beer, eat greasy food and strut their stuff in full bowling regalia. Truly, this elevated fundraising to new heights. Artists can sometimes be a wacky bunch. But a whole lot of them sure know how to bowl. (SB)

Best Artwork on Public Display
"Portrait of Elsie Palmer"
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

One hundred and fifty years ago, the schooner America sailed over to England and engaged a dozen of the Kingdom's fastest sailboats in a now-legendary race. One of the spectators, Queen Victoria, after being informed that America was first around the weather mark, asked which yacht was second, only to be informed, "Your majesty, there is no second." Similarly, John Singer Sargent's brilliant "Portrait of Elsie Palmer," which graces the Theater Lounge at the Fine Arts Center, is our city's only great masterpiece. Sargent is one of our finest artists, and arguably the finest American portraitist; of the hundreds of portraits he executed, "Elsie Palmer" is one of the dozen best. And the fact that Elsie was the daughter of our city's founder adds historic resonance to artistic merit. If you've never seen it, go now. It's a great painting. (JH)

Best Functional Sidewalk Art

Trattoria DeAngelo's patio enclosure
123 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 227-7400

It's a testament to Trattoria DeAngelo's good taste that they went the extra mile when choosing the fencing for their patio patrons. No basic black for these guys. No elastic strapping that makes you feel like you're in line at the airport. It's a garden-scape of sorts: eight frosty, silvery-green panels of what looks to be steel, with shapes of grapes, vines, stems and leaves carved out, the lines defined with a burnished black. I crave a glass of Merlot every time I walk by, so they must be doing something right. (TP)

Best First Amendment Bar
Leonard's Bar II
2112 E. Platte Ave., 473-4901

Thanks to the Colorado Department of Revenue, Leonard Carlo has become famous for his love of the word fuck. In August 1998, Carlo's bar was raided by overzealous state liquor license enforcement agents, who ripped 29 signs off the walls of the bar claiming that, because the signs contained vulgarities, they violated a state regulation that prohibits profanity in bars. Leonard was so pissed off that he had his bald head permanently tattooed to read "Fuck U, leave me the fuck alone," which was clearly directed at any agents who wanted to come back for more. In addition to the ridiculous notion that the state prohibits cussing in bars, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado pointed out that the regulation is also a constitutional violation of the First Amendment. Even County Commissioner Ed Jones, who likes to toss back a few at Leonard's, was appalled. In July, the state backed off, and agreed it would no longer try to enforce the regulation. (CD)

Best Place To Shoot Pool
Readers' Poll Winner
Phantom Canyon Brewing Co.

2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-2800
Previous Best Of Awards: '96 '97 '98 '99

Whether you're a pool shark, or a pool guppie for whom the physics of elastic collision remains a mystery, you can get your billiard kicks taken care of upstairs at Phantom Canyon. They've got immaculately cared-for tables that seem to stretch for miles, tasty eats at the ready, huge windows for day-dreaming (during those long stretches when your opponent is sinking ball after ball), and enough flowing beverages to make you feel like you're living a scene from The Hustler. (TP)

Best Place to Hear Jazz
Primitivo Wine Bar
28 S. Tejon St., 473-4900
The pickings may be slim, but even if Colorado Springs was a jazz mecca, it's still a good bet that Primitivo Wine Bar's Tuesday night jazz would be the best gig in town. Some of the best players around have been hired for this series, like Boulder's queen of croon, Hazel Miller. Situated right in the middle of downtown, laid back and impeccably smooth, it's the perfect place for a deeply musical interlude. The only drawback? Well, currently you can only catch Primitivo's jazz offerings during the summer. I would humbly suggest that Primitivo take pity on year-round jazz lovers like myself and extend their jazz night through all the seasons. (MF)

Best Local Art Investment

Every collector has a dozen "Could have-should have" stories; about the Janet Fish he could've bought for a few bucks 25 years ago, or the Don Cohn he could've bought at Poor Richard's a few years back. There are some terrific artists working in the Pikes Peak region nowadays; whose work should you spring for, if you want to brag about your prescience in a decade or two? If we knew, we wouldn't tell you -- we'd be busy buying. But we can guess; basing our hunches on perceived quality (to paraphrase Duke Ellington, if it looks good, it is good), we'd try to afford works by: photographers Carol Dass, Bill Starr, and Jane McBee; sculptors Bob LeDonne and Don Green; printmaker Jean Gumpper; fabric artist Jean Steiner; and painters Sushi Felix, Tracy Felix, and Pat Musick. And if we had to choose one? It'd have to be Gumpper, whose large-scale color woodcuts are magnificent, radiant and still barely affordable. (JH)

Best Classical Music Group
Readers' Poll Winner
Colorado Springs Symphony

The best little symphony orchestra west of the Mississippi River just keeps on kickin'. This season heralds the arrival of new conductor, Lawrence Leighton-Smith, who promises to take us to new heights of classical satisfaction. And this month we'll see the symphony's historic collaboration with the Ballet de Monte Carlo for a never before attempted in the Springs, fully-orchestrated presentation of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. Few middle-sized cities in the U.S. rival ours for the quality and consistency of our symphony orchestra. Make this the year you vow to buy season tickets. (KCE)

Best Secret Stage
Western Jubilee Warehouse Theater and Studio
Scott O'Malley & Associates, 635-7776

The best atmosphere for a performance venue I've encountered in years is at a hidden venue nestled at the end of a back road off one of Colorado Springs' downtown main drags. The tiny little theater -- used primarily as a recording studio -- can accommodate 75 to 100 people in the audience, depending on how close the crowd is. The studio is part of the offices of Scott O'Malley & Associates, and they've recorded everyone from cowboy singers and poets Don Edwards and Waddie Mitchell to traditional and avant-garde folk singers including Norman Blake and Michelle Shocked. Every now and then, when one of O'Malley's musical friends is passing through town on the way to another gig, the studio is transformed into a private concert hall, filling the house by invitation only with donations accepted and a B.Y.O.B. policy. The informal gatherings are about as close as you can get to an old-fashioned, living-room hootenanny, and if you don't know the folks sitting next to you in dusty boots and weathered Stetsons, pass 'em a bottle of beer and a bag of popcorn, and you'll have new friends fast enough. Recent shows have included a characteristically unconventional pairing of poet Mitchell with old-time autoharpist Bryan Bowers, Cowboy Celtic onstage with folksinger Katy Moffat, and a Nitty Gritty reunion with Jimmy Ibbotson and John McEuen enthralling audiences with a night of spontaneous psychadelia. You're on your own to get yourself onto the mailing list. As Scott says, if I told you any more I'd have to kill you. (OP)

Indy Theater Awards
Bestowed by our erstwhile critic, Owen Perkins.

Note: Plays under consideration included all locally produced productions staged between September 1, 1999 and August 31, 2000.

Best Play
A Raisin in the Sun
TheatreWorks, November 1999

Nothing on stage in the Springs last season could touch the across-the-boards quality of TheatreWorks' fall production of A Raisin in the Sun. The intimate Dwire Theatre emphasized the superb acting of the company as an unremarkable Chicago family faces remarkable moments at a crossroads crisis. TheatreWorks introduced the Springs to characters that were frighteningly and irresistibly real -- unpredictable, driven by a myriad of motivations competing for attention -- and the audience alternatively recoiled and rejoiced at the inability to anticipate their dark valleys and their glorious summits. Best of all, TheatreWorks brought the play out of its slot as a period piece, making it vital and resonant to contemporary audiences while raising the bar for excellence in local theater productions.

Best Season for a Company
The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Repertory Theatre Company

Comparing theatrical companies in Colorado Springs can be a lot like comparing apples and oranges. Most of the companies have their own unique agenda, their own set of expectations and goals that don't often overlap with their thespi-peers. But simply in terms of meeting those individual goals and expectations, no company had a better track record than the F.A.C. Repertory Theatre Company, The Rep was four-for-four on the season, scoring worthy, high quality, professional productions of Phantom, Scrooge!, H.M.S. Pinafore, and The Sound of Music. There were moments of excellence to rival any production in each of the season's offerings, and the relatively conservative selection of musicals was never disappointing. First-rate orchestras, strong leading players, and an energetic company made this company the surest bet of the season.

Best New Play
and this is my significant bother
Buntport Theater, December 1999

One of the freshest productions to grace local stages last season came from a new adaptation of some half-century-old stories celebrating the distinctive humor in the pages of James Thurber's short fiction. Brian Colona, Hanna Duggan, Erik Edborg, and Erin Rollman--all Colorado College graduates--adapted nine stories, brilliantly capturing the characteristic quality of Thurber's atmospheric comic scenes. Each scene offered a unique and innovative approach to theatrical storytelling, and their ingenious set piece could morph from a bed to a car to a courtroom to a trap-door basement. The company, who had previously produced the original chalk-talk production of Quixote, has since relocated to Denver and taken their act on the festival circuit, but perhaps they can be enticed to bring another new production back home to the Springs.

Best Actress
Judeth Shay Burns, Phantom
The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Repertory Theatre Company, October 1999

While many theater-goers were grateful for the chance to see Gaston Leroux's novel without the Andrew Lloyd Webber indulgences, others may have been disappointed at the scaled-down treatment of the famous phantom. But led by Judeth Shay Burns, the company came through with a lavishly staged and beautifully sung production. As the young ingenue Christine, Burns soared with the score, captivating her audience and providing the sense of magic and the holy reverence for music that spur the characters and justify the action. Too often, an audience is overchallenged to accept characters as irresistibly beautiful or talented when cast members can't summon the power of persuasion to evoke the distinguishing qualities. In Phantom, where the action turned on the stunning talents of Christine, Burns was utterly convincing, worthy of the phantom's guarded praise as he mentors her with the claim that "you are music."

Best Actor
Don Clark Williams, A Raisin in the Sun
TheatreWorks, November 1999

Don Clark Williams defied the odds as the lead character in A Raisin in the Sun. His performance accomplished the ultimate goal of theater, to not merely entertain his audience, but to challenge them, to shake their faith and force them to reevaluate their bedrock values. As the ethically wavering Walter, Williams forced his audience to question our instinct to smile at his antics. We reined in our emotions when he tempted us with his own sugar-coated rite--of-passage, daring us to believe in a happily-ever-after. The honesty of his performance, and the chemistry between the cast as a whole-ripped audiences apart as the family unraveled before our eyes, then boldly -- and barely -- pulled itself back together.

Best Supporting Actress
Virginia Henley, H.M.S. Pinafore
The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Repertory Theatre Company, February 2000

In a season filled with powerhouse performances by Colorado Springs actresses, there are not enough categories to recognize the deep talent pool. From Pamela Clifton's razor-edged performance in It Had to be You and Jane Fromme's unflinching enigma in Private Lives to Dawn Stern's transforming performance in Twelfth Night and the double-barreled punch of A. Lynne Bell and Maris Dannielle Hebert in heart-wrenching performances as mother and daughter in A Raisin in the Sun, the competition was formidable. Virginia Henley was undaunted, however. Her earlier performance in the dual roles of Helen and Isabel in Scrooge! was the highlight of the show, leaving audiences yearning for more. And more they got when Henley took the role of Josephine in H.M.S. Pinafore. Henley's rounded blending of singing and acting was the epitome of a Gilbert and Sullivan heroine, captivating audiences with her inspired ballads and backing it up with convincing characterization.

Best Supporting Actor
Charles Schnetzer, H.M.S. Pinafore
The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Repertory Theatre Company, February 2000

At the height of a Gilbert and Sullivan renaissance, the F.A.C. Rep challenged its audience with a racy production turning patter songs into rap and filling the stage with delirious disco dancing. Charles Schnetzer proved to be the anchor to sanity from the purist point of view, providing the production's comic fulcrum in the role of Admiral Sir Joseph Porter. Schnetzer's performance as the pasty, landlocked ruler of the Queen's navy was a virtuoso tour de force. He defied convention, utilizing his ghostly white makeup, his anti-gravitational posture and body language--a combination of an Ed Grimley lead-with-your-waist walk and a Walter Matthau slob slouch--and his Inspector Clousseau knack for elocution and misfiring dignity. Schnetzer's wild caricature of a character carried the show on his sloping shoulders from his first entrance onward.

Best Ensemble
You Can't Take It with You
Smokebrush Theater, November 1999

The classic Kaufman and Hart comedy is a virtual playground for actors, a delirious alternative reality with fistfuls of sanity-challenged characters. The company hit just the right note of mayhem and kept the brisk-paced comedy relentlessly on track. The rat-a-tat repartee between the various members of the household kept the audience on its toes with scarcely time to catch their breath. Without going too far overboard in cartoonish caricatures, the ensemble maintained the delicate balance between high-energy chaos and the carefully crafted characters that made the play so much more than mere exquisite slapstick, placing it at the top of the farewell season for Smokebrush.

Best Director
Katie Damp, A Raisin in the Sun
TheatreWorks, November 1999

Good plays do not direct themselves, and despite the seamless production quality that transported audiences into the 1950s world of the Younger family, director Katie Damp's touch was constantly evident in A Raisin in the Sun. The craft of the director was perhaps most evident in the ceaseless responsiveness she demanded from her cast. The air was constantly filled with palpable tensions simmering toward explosion. There was so much unuttered interaction between the characters that audiences found themselves watching the subtextual service and return as though watching a tennis match. Damp orchestrated the quality of expectation, whipping our heads stage left, stage right, stage left, stage right without ever a disappointing moment in looking at an out-of-the-way character who has every right to drift into the shadows but, under Damp's careful direction, refuses to do so.

Best Design
Nancy Hankin, A Raisin in the Sun
TheatreWorks, November 1999

This was an excellent year for local theatrical designers, and noteworthy work was exemplified by Charles Berendt's stunning recreation of Baroque elegance in The Bourgeois Gentilhomme and Michael Stansberry's sumptuously antiqued design for You Can't Take It With You, both welcome antidotes to apologetic minimalism. But Nancy Hankin took things a step further, sparing no detail in immersing her audience in the world of a Chicago family tenement house in A Raisin in the Sun. Her working gas stove filled the theater with morning smells of slow-sizzling bacon and scrambling eggs. Hankin gave force, immediacy and depth to the silence of characters who were variously waiting, hiding, dreaming and dreading out of the lights of center stage. So convincing were the illusions that the audience could almost feel the warmth of the beam of sunlight angling its way through the canyons of tenements to get to Mama Lena's struggling plant in the kitchen window.

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