Duncan Sheik @ the Fox Theatre - Reverb - Reverb

Duncan Sheik @ the Fox Theatre

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Songwriter Duncan Sheik played an illuminating set on Thursday at Boulder’s Fox Theatre. All photos by John Moore.

How often can you say the highlight of any concert was the musical-theater montage? Wait — how often can you say there even was a musical-theater montage?

It says much about Duncan Sheik’s career progression that his saccharine breakout hit “Barely Breathing” was the least interesting number in an otherwise lush and lilting set he played with seven friends Thursday at the Fox Theatre in Boulder. By far.

Backed by haunting singer Holly Brook and a power string quartet that even got occasionally fierce, Sheik took audiences through a trio of profound numbers from “Spring Awakening,” the Tony-winning 2007 best musical about German teens discovering sex in 1891 in a near-total absence of education. “Mama Who Bore Me” (beautifully sung by Brook), “Touch Me” and “I Don’t Do Sadness” moved a regrettably small crowd of enthusiastic theater geeks intermingling with polite, hushed, middle-aged soft poppers. It was a rare bird’s-eye view of a score fans are paying $100 a night to see and hear on Broadway.

“Barely Breathing” is both Sheik’s blessing and his curse. He didn’t deserve the ubiquitousness and fame that came with that dull 1996 hit, and he didn’t deserve to be lumped in with all those lovelorn quarter-life crisis pups who followed.

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If anyone deserves a second look as a songwriter and showman, it’s the endearingly shy goofball who has breathed new life into Broadway. His set Thursday reflected a man who has changed theater and been changed by it. His once-plain songwriting catalog is now gorgeously orchestrated and deeply metaphoric. So much so that comparisons to Bonnie Prince Billie and Iron & Wine seem far more apropos than to James “Yawn” Blunt or Jack Johnson.

Such are the vagaries of stardom. But Sheik has staying power, and many irons in the fire: He’s starting a new combo with David Poe and finishing up several new musicals. (His sample of the promising “Lover From Hell” from the upcoming musical “Nero” was a highlight. Sample lyric: “When it was good, nights were fine, spinning her sadness like sweet holy wine.”)

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Sheik also played “Star-field on Red Lines” as a good riddance to Mitt Romney, dusted off “Half Life” and peaked with “Oh Such Reveries.” He finished with a nice cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.”

Sheik’s Colorado tour continued with shows Saturday, Feb. 9, at Aspen’s Wheeler
House ($30, 8 p.m., 866-449-0464) and Monday, Feb. 11 at Beaver Creek’s Vilar
Arts Center ($36, 7:30 p.m., 888-920-2787). On Sunday he had a date in Los Angeles for the Grammys, where he won an award for his “Spring Awakening” cast recording.

Video extra:

Video: Duncan Sheik at Boulder’s Fox Theatre Feb. 7, 2008. This is a short excerpt from “Lover From Hell,” from his upcoming theatrical musical “Nero.”

John Moore is the theater critic for The Denver Post.

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