Wizard of Oz, The
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

Although it’s not technically what one might consider a “Christmas show,” Skylight Music Theater’s Wizard of Oz provides all the magic, fantasy and good moral lessons that might be found in more “typical” holiday fare. Plus, there’s a cute little dog and two witches! What kids wouldn’t want to see a show about that? One hopes that audiences will turn out in large numbers to see this amazing production, which excels in both its casting and production values.

Anne Siegel
What the Butler Saw
Mark Taper Forum

The laughs come fast and furious in Center Theater Group’s revival of Joe Orton’s 1967 sex farce, What the Butler Saw, now in a holiday run at the Mark Taper Forum. Directed by John Tillinger, an Orton expert (Loot and Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Taper), Butler pokes rude, wicked fun at psychiatry, the police, marriage, publishing, nymphomania, religion and even Winston Churchill during the course of its madcap story.

Willard Manus
River, The
Circle in the Square

Hugh Jackman - rugged, charismatic, he's The Man. Put him on a stage, and they will come. In The River at the Circle in the Square, audiences fill seats and stand in the back to look and listen as he waxes poetically about fish and love, or the search for both. They watch as he prepares a fish on stage. The Woman (Cush Junbo) caught it, but The Man guts and fillets it, chops the vegetables, and places it lovingly in a roasting pan for the evening meal. Is there more to this enigmatic play by Jez Butterworth (Jerusalem) than a man loving to fish?

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Harvey
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

As the Milwaukee Repertory Theater dove into the holiday season with its perennial moneymaker, A Christmas Carol, it also sought another heartwarming alternative. So it turned to the chestnut, Harvey, a 1944 play that won a Pulitzer Prize for playwright Mary Chase.

Anne Siegel
Side Show
St. James Theater

Blazing talent is center stage in this presentation of the cult favorite, Side Show. Erin Davie, as the gentle, shy, “Siamese twin” Violet Hilton is superb. If possible, Emily Padgett is even more outstanding as outgoing, aspirational Daisy Hilton. There is a real vein of sadness and horror in their story. As mere babies, they were put into the hands of cruel guardians who wished only to take advantage of them.

Michall Jeffers
River, The
Circle in the Square

Hugh Jackman is a powerful presence in Jez Butterworth’s play, The River: he’s handsome, physically agile, wonderfully charming, and clear spoken. He makes a seduction pitch that young swains might memorize. It’s irresistible. His ploy of seduction is to take a woman to his cabin in the woods to go fishing.

Richmond Shepard
Fabulous! The Queen of New Musical Comedies
Times Square Arts Center

Fabulous, the “Some Like It Hot”-style musical with book and lyrics by Dan Darby, music by Michael Rheault, gives us a transvestite romance on a ship, with Nick Morrett and Josh Kenny play men escaping from danger. It’s a barrel of fun performed by a lively cast who are all fine singers, a tap dancing quartet of cute sailors, some broad comedy, and romance.

Director Rick Hamilton keeps everything jumpin’, aided by Mary Lauren’s bouncy choreography. They call it “The Queen of New Musical Comedies,” and it sure is. You’ll have a great time.

Richmond Shepard
You Can't Take it With You
Longacre Theater

The 1936 comedy about a crazy mixed up arty family by the masters of their time, Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, You Can’t Take it with You, is just as much fun today as it has been all these years. (I played Mr. DePinna in 1947 at Emory University.) With a superb familiar Broadway cast led by James Earl Jones as the grandfather, we are also introduced to a comic gem: Annaleigh Ashford. She’ll go far and high.

Richmond Shepard
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The
Ethel Barrymore Theater

Simon Stephens’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,based on a book by Mark Haddon, is a performance-art piece, a play that explores the world of an autistic boy (played by the physically flexible Alex Sharp) who speaks in announcements with crisp consonants, and reacts to the imaginative trips provoked by the world around him. It’s odd, brilliant, stylized, with lots narrated by his teacher and his mother. It’s also a light show, designed by Paule Constable, with active patterns that actually become a description of inner state.

Richmond Shepard
Disgraced
Lyceum Theater

Ayad Akhtar's twisting drama at the Lyceum Theater, Disgraced, is as timely as an up-to-the-minute newsbreak. First produced off Broadway in 2012, the tempestuous play won the Pulitzer Prize for its examination of the Islamic faith in today's culture.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Belle of Amherst, The
Westside Theater

There’s nothing easy about performing a monologue for two hours, but Joely Richardson makes it seem like the most natural thing in the world. Reclusive poet Emily Dickenson is The Belle of Amherst, at least in her girlhood daydreams. She grows up in the Homestead, as she calls her father’s house. We learned that he was a strong, undemonstrative man but much loved by his daughter. Now that he’s gone, Emily lives in the house with her sister, Lavinia; she assures us that the rumors that Lavinia, too, has remained a spinster so she could stay with Emily are untrue.

Michall Jeffers
Last Ship, The
Neil Simon Theater

Joe Mantello, with the help of choreographer Steven Hoggett, has outdone himself directing The Last Ship,book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, music and lyrics by Sting. This is quite an interesting musical about a maritime town in Ireland that has stopped building ships and wants the workers, ship-builders for generations, to use their skills and tools to repair machinery. The townfolk want to build only ships, and they set out to build one themselves. Somehow they’re going to find the metal, engines, etc., and with a workman’s nobility and pride, build it.

Richmond Shepard
Side Show
St. James Theater

Side Show, book and lyrics by Bill Russell, music by Henry Krieger, is a stylized piece, brilliantly directed by Bill Condon, with miraculous choreography by Anthony Van Laast, based on the adventures of actual Siamese Twins, the Hilton sisters, who went from Side Show Freaks to Vaudeville and fame. The sisters, played by Erin Davie and Emily Padgett are remarkable -- beautiful, great singers and dancers, and where they found this pair of actual Siamese Twins is, I guess, a secret. They can’t fool me and say that they are two separate women!

Richmond Shepard
Heresy
Next Act Theater

There seem to be no taboo topics at Next Act Theater, which has made its reputation by producing work that sometimes provokes its audience, causing it to question, to think, and perhaps to re-evaluate its own beliefs. Next Act’s current offering, A.R. Gurney’s Heresy, sounded like it would be a perfect fit. However, that’s not the case. The only thinking that audiences are likely to do while viewing this fiasco is: “When is the play going to end?”

Anne Siegel
Hairspray
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz

Emphasizing the fun in Hairspray’s many funky features, the stars and all who support them at Florida Studio Theater never let their energy or smiles flag. Like their 1960s hairdos, they represent sky-high hopes, then actions of the big-hearted to win out against the pig-and-wrong-headed in a contest that’s silly on the surface but will have a serious purpose deep down.

Marie J. Kilker
Billy & Ray
Vineyard Theater

It’s hard for us to imagine a time when film noir was considered daring and even dangerous. We’ve seen so many parodies of men in fedoras with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, growling “Stick with me, Baby.” Billy & Ray is the story behind the story, the tale of how the renowned writer/director Billy Wilder (Vincent Kartheiser) teamed up with novelist Raymond Chandler (Larry Pine) to create what became a movie classic.

Michall Jeffers
Night Mother
The Lost Studio

Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Night, Mother has been winningly revived at The Lost Studio, thanks to outstanding performances by Sylva Kelegian and Lisa Richards (who honed their work at the Actors Studio). Kelegian plays Jessie, the woman who is so bored and disappointed by life that she has decided to commit suicide; Richards plays her elderly mother Thelma, a woman fighting with all the weapons she can muster to keep her daughter alive.

Willard Manus
South Pacific
Florida State University for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

A friend asked about Asolo Rep’s new season opener: “Why South Pacific?”I explained that it fits artistic director Michael Donald Edwards’s commitment to a five-year exploration of the American Character. It would seem this third-year start also aims at getting a sizable audience right off (as musicals are loved in Sarasota) as well as giving a timely tribute to service people, especially veterans.

Marie J. Kilker
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The
Ethel Barrymore Theater

In first place, for now anyway, the most remarkable play this season is, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, based on a 2003 novel by Mark Haddon. Creatively produced and directed by Marianne Elliott (War Horse),its imaginative staging and impressive cast takes your breath away while remaining emotionally evocative. The novel, written for young adults, makes for a fascinating theater production for all ages.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Lion King, The
Milwaukee Theater

The Lion King, the most successful musical in American history, roars into Milwaukee for the first time since 2008. It will play a four-week run at the cavernous Milwaukee Theater. The theater, with more than 4,000 seats, is nearly twice the size of Lion King’sfirst home, Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theater in New York. (The show is now playing at the Minskoff Theater). The extra space comes in handy for some of the animal effects for which the show is known.

Annie Siegel
Water Engine, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theatre

David Mamet originally wrote The Water Engine in 1977 as a radio drama, and that’s how the Asolo Conservatory actors start out playing it. But the presentational style becomes a backdrop for downstage representational acting of the story. Here, the mix makes for progress that echoes the time and setting: Chicago, 1934, at the height of the Century of Progress Fair. It touted science and industry as the ways out of recession, eading to everyone’s getting work and achieving the American Dream.

Marie J. Kilker
Exit the King
East Line Productions

When the king in EastLine Production’s presentation of Eugene Ionesco’s Exit the King finds out a doctor has given him very little time to live, his reaction is normal. He says what most of us would think, and many of us would say. “Tell me this isn’t true,” T. Gregg McClain, clad in a crown and royal attire, says as King Berenger.

Claude Solnik
Real Thing, The
American Airlines Theater

If you love Noel Coward, chances are you’ll like The Real Thing. There’s a similar voice; four people who are supposed to love each other snipe, cheat, and yearn for the better something that’s just around the bend. Whether or not the characters in this play achieve that happiness is open for debate. During the course of the comedy, themes are developed delving into the nature of what reality and truth actually mean, especially as it applies to relationships.

Michall Jeffers
When the Rain Stops Falling
Bergamot Station Arts Center

When the Rain Stops Falling, a dark, poetic drama by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell, has been given a first-rate production by City Garage, the avant-garde company headed by Frederique Michel.

Willard Manus
Here Lies Love
Public Theater

In Here Lies Love, David Byrne’s concept of doing a rockish musical about the life of Imelda Marcos––former First Lady of The Philippines and famous for her shoe collection––in the manner of a ‘60’s “Happening” with the audience being part of the interaction, is quite bold. Byrne’s collaboration with composer Fatboy Slim in the songs, which mix romantic pop ballads with blasting, pounding cacophony, is also all quite theatrical.

Richmond Shepard
Last Ship, The
Neil Simon Theater

Sting fans rejoice. The Last Ship has set sail on Broadway, and it looks like it’s going to be a long voyage. Those in the know will recognize many of the songs, as they’ve been featured in albums by the charismatic singer-songwriter.

Michall Jeffers
Bonnie and Clyde
WaterTower Theater

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were two notorious young Texas outlaws, who, with their accomplices known as The Barrow Gang, masterminded a reign of terror in five states during the years 1932-34.  Both were in their early 20s and lived in the slums of West Dallas.

Rita Faye Smith
1969
Stella Adler Theater

Towne Street Theater, L.A.’s leading African-American theater company, has celebrated its 21st anniversary by mounting the world premiere of Barbara White Morgan’s powerful social drama, 1969. The choice of title is significant, as it was in the late 60s that the Black liberation movement in the USA began to come apart after a decade of successful rebellion against the white power structure, led by such figures as Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton.

Willard Manus
Nineteen Sixty Nine

(see listing under 1969)

Willard Manus
On the Town
Lyric Theater

What a pleasure it is to watch actors perform in a hit show. Even consummate professionals give just a little more when they know they’re in a sure-fire hit. There’s that extra sparkle in the current production of On The Town.Everyone in the cast really shines; the songs are sung full out, the dance steps have verve and bounce, the lines are effortlessly popped out to the last row in the second balcony. And throughout., the audience roars with appreciation.

Michall Jeffers
Einstein!
Lounge 1 Theater

Jack Fry, whose previous solo play, They Call Me Mister Fry, was a hit at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival, returns to L.A. with his latest monologue, Einstein. Fry, a writer as well as a performer, has created an Albert Einstein we haven’t seen on stage before. Gone is the stereotypical image we have of the renowned physicist––frizzy-haired, wise-cracking, Chaplinesque. In his place, Fry gives us a 35-year-old Einstein––vigorous, driven and tormented.

Willard Manus
Amelia
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

As Wisconsin’s only woman-run theater company, Renaissance Theaterworks has made a name for itself by producing plays featuring strong female characters. Actually, its mission is far broader than that, but one glance at its latest offering, Amelia, tells you that the troupe is still passionate about its initial mission. This tale, by Alex Webb, is equal parts history lesson and love story.

Anne Siegel
Man Who Planted Trees, The
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

The Wallis Theater has once again culled the very best of children’s theater from around the world to present this multi-sensory theatrical adaptation of Jean Giono’s environmental classic, recommended for ages 7+.

The Man Who Planted Trees tells the inspiring story of a shepherd who plants a forest, acorn by acorn, transforming a barren wasteland. As much a touching tale as it is a hilarious puppet show, the piece shows us the difference one man (and his dog!) can make to the world

Mavis Manus
Marjorie Prime
Mark Taper Forum

With the population aging – think baby boomers, as well as their parents and grandparents – Alzheimer, dementia, and loss of memory are among the hottest of hot-button topics around. (Well, if you push aside the daily barrage of updates on Ebola, ISIS, terrorism, as well as older articles on the spread of AIDS, the two Gulf Wars and 9/11.) Everybody that I speak with knows somebody suffering from Alzheimer’s or some sort of dementia. It seems to be an epidemic.

Edward Rubin
Forever
Kirk Douglas Theater

Forever, written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith (on commission from Center Theater Group), is a solo play which deals with life and death in a brave, rawly powerful way. Orlandersmith, a much-feted African-American poet, playwright and actor, centers her monologue on a recent visit she made to Paris’ Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where some of her personal heroes are buried: Apollinaire, Edith Piaf, Richard Wright, Jim Morrison. They represent the family she created for herself after leaving the family she was born into.

Willard Manus
Nice Things
Rogue Machine

Vince Melocchi’s Nice Things, now in a world-premiere run at Rogue Machine, goes deep into post-industrial America for its drama. Set in 2009 Dunsmore, PA, a town turned wasteland by the closure of the factories and mines that once supported it, Nice Things shows just how bleak life is for the working-class folk who are stuck there these days. Because their jobs have been shipped overseas, they must look to the military for a way out of poverty and hopelessness.

Willard Manus
Two Character Play, The
Bath House Cultural Center

WingSpan Theater Company opened Tennessee Williams’s 1967 surreal drama, The Two Character Play, October 9, 2014 at The Bath House Cultural Center. Kevin Scott Keating and Lulu Ward star.

Rita Faye Smith
It's Only a Play
Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

The answer is Nathan Lane. The question is what’s the best reason to see It’s Only A Play.This nearly sold-out smash hit is playing to full houses chocked with appreciative theatergoers. Just as trumpeted, the laughs never stop because director Jack O’Brien has done a masterful job keeping everything moving at breakneck speed. The deck is stacked with performers who know how to deliver a line for maximum effect. Playwright Terrence McNally is in familiar territory, and nary a quip fails to get the desired reaction.

Michall Jeffers
You Can't Take it With You
Longacre Theater

Written in 1936 by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, You Can’t Take it with You brings the Vanderhof extended family of crazies, all colorful semi-artises doing their thing, to Broadway’s Longacre Theater. In the Sycamore family, everyone follows his bliss, but each bliss flies in a different direction. Yet they all end up in a kind of chaotic unity. There is definitely something lovable about this group anchored by Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (James Earl Jones) whose cheery philosophy is, "Life is kind of beautiful if you let it come to you."

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Once
Overture Center for the Arts

Wisconsin audiences get their first look at the national tour of Oncein the spectacular Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, the state capitol.

A few words about the center: celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the center was built on a primary donation of $205 million by the creators of American Girl dolls. The donation came after the company was sold to Mattel for zillions of dollars.

Anne Siegel

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