The audience's fervor has reached its pitch. The cast of Denver's Buntport Theater Company kicks like the Rockettes and sings in bawdy Guys and Dolls style: There's no Ernie like this Ernie/ He's the best Ernie we know.
Ernie, played by actor Brian Colonna, mounts the table at center stage and swirls the red-and-white checked tablecloth around his head. The four other cast members break from their kick line and begin to spin the table singing: Even when he forgets all his lines/ He comes out looking mighty fine/ When he enters, the damn crowd claps every time/ 'Cause he steals the show.
The 150 regulars infatuated with Buntport's live situation comedy, Magnets on the Fridge, roar. Four high school girls in matching, long-sleeve Magnets T-shirts squeal and pinch each other's arms. The hooting's so loud the lyrics are lost. Brian, just 5 foot 8 but gigantically enthusiastic, eggs on the crowd's adulation with winks and a self-aware, impish grin. Then, purposefully off-key, he belts out the final line: Cuz' I steal the shooooow.
Last season's final episode of Magnets on the Fridge exemplifies the troupe's popularity. But like most theater companies, Buntport wasn't always pulling in 150-plus audiences. Actors Hannah Duggan, Erin Rollman, Erik Edborg, Evan Weissman and Colonna and behind-the-scenes partners Samantha Schmitz and Matt Petraglia all met at Colorado College a decade ago, when they were all just young hopefuls.
"A couple of us had just graduated and we just wanted to put on a show," said Edborg. "Somehow they let us do it on campus."
With half the company still in school, Buntport transformed the legend of Don Quixote into a satire of academic life using only chalkboards and erasers as props. Edborg says the main character, the frustrated English professor, wasn't inspired by a real CC teacher. Rather, the character came out of their collective experiences in the college's classrooms.
The audience, many of whom were professors or fellow students, loved the performance.
"I don't remember whose idea it was but we were sitting in a Mexican restaurant in Colorado Springs after Quixote and someone said, 'Why don't we try to be a traveling theater company?''' said Edborg. "Everybody said, 'OK, I didn't really have any plans after college anyway.'"
But the road wasn't for Buntport; the players missed being at home in Colorado. A few months after they got back from a tour, they found a permanent space in Denver's warehouse district. Here, the troupe began to build a tiny following with their madly inventive productions. The players re-envisioned The Odyssey as a walking tour where the myth is told through Walkmans. They transformed Shakespeare's goriest play, Titus Andronicus, into a musical and even brought it back to their alma mater.
"People loved that show on campus even though we were miserable," said Edborg. "We did it outside last summer and it was about 90 degrees."
In the post-Colorado College decade, Buntport's cast has written and performed more than a dozen original shows, the latest being Macblank and Kafka on Ice.
And the company's success has not gone unnoticed. Buntport has won a score of awards including being named Denver's top theater company last year by the Rocky Mountain News.
Macblank is a comedy about a theater company's effort to mount Shakespeare's cursed play done MTV Real World style, with the characters giving flustered soliloquies to the audience.
Whereas Macblank challenges the troupe's acting abilities, Kafka on Ice challenges their skating abilities (or lack thereof). The show's a biographical look at the author using his most famous work, Metamorphosis, as the vehicle -- except it's a musical, and it's performed on ice.
And then there's the troupe's cult hit, Magnets on the Fridge, which reopens next month. Magnets is a live sitcom based on a dysfunctional book club complete with credits, commercials and a theme song. The sitcom began as a simple way to keep the Buntport Theater space alive during weeks when the company wasn't mounting a show. The company didn't think it'd be a hit and was certain it wouldn't pay the rent. Yet both are now true.
While Magnets is the bread and butter, Buntport's plays are the meat and potatoes. Don't make the mistake of becoming a Magnet-head and missing their distinctive original shows.
-- Jed Gottlieb
Macblank plays on Fridays, Oct. 8 through Dec. 3 and the following Thursdays: Oct. 14 and 28, and Nov. 11.
Kafka on Ice plays on Saturdays, Oct. 9 through Dec. 4 and the following Thursdays: Oct. 21, Nov. 4 and 18, and Dec. 2.
Magnets on the Fridge's fifth season begins on Nov. 16.
All shows are at 8 p.m.
Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan St., Denver
Call 720/946-1388 for more information and reservations.