Love, Loss and What I Wore
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Merz Theater

A stunning example of Readers Theater, Love, Loss, and What I Woreseats five vibrant interpreters behind traditional stands holding texts. They reveal stages of women’s lives recalled in connection with the clothes, shoes, accessories that figure in their memories.

Marie J. Kilker
The Last of the Knotts
Santa Monica Playhouse

The sins of the father is the theme of Doug Knott's compelling solo drama, The Last of the Knotts, which has been turning up at various L.A. venues over the past few years.

Willard Manus
Harvey
American Airlines Theater

Jim Parsons, Emmy-winner for television’s “Big Bang Theory,” is charming Broadway audiences in Mary Chase's 1944 long-running, Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy, Harvey,a Roundabout Theatre Company revival at Studio 54.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Floyd Collins
Theater Wit

Adam Guettel and Tina Landau’s Floyd Collinspacks a powerful clout in a production by Chicago’s BoHo Theater.

This isn’t a new work. Floyd was performed by Chicago’s Goodman Theater in 1999, and the following year by Milwaukee’s Skylight Opera Theater (now Skylight Music Theater). Although this reviewer didn’t see the Goodman production, the Skylight show proved to be a memorable experience.

Anne Siegel
Rise
Theater Asylum

Zenith Ensemble, one of L.A.'s newest theater companies, really put itself on the map with its production of Rise at the 2012 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Written by first-time playwright Cal Barnes and featuring two dynamic actors, Brett Colbeth and Gowrie Hayden, Risehas a raw, visceral intensity about it, an intensity that is maintained over the entire course of its 60-minute length.

Willard Manus
Das Barbecu
Florida Studio Theater - Keating Mainstage

Das Barbecü is a send-up of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” and a put-down of Texas and Texans’ excesses. At Florida Studio Theater, the plot has a “Dallas”-like ring to it, as it’s acted, danced, and sung (with a Texas twang) by five energetic performers playing 30 characters.

Marie J. Kilker
Idina Menzel
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

The high-flying career of 41-year-old Idina Menzel includes her Tony Award-winning performance in Broadway's Wicked, her Tony-nominated performance in Rent,and even a regular slot on the popular TV show, "Glee." She brought her one-woman show – and a six piece rhythm section – to Milwaukee recently, and she brought down the house.

Anne Siegel
Cycles
Elephant-Asylum Lab Theater

Robert Litz's powerful one-act play, Cycles, was one of the finest things I've seen at the 2012 Hollywood Fringe. Set in a Boston Fitness Club, Cyclespits Jake (Alan Rosenberg) and Buzz (Dominic Rains) against each other in a swiftly unfolding battle not just for dominance but survival.

Jake and Buzz are obvious opposites: the former is an elderly, wisecracking Jew who hates exercise; the latter is a young, intense Italian who trains like a fanatic. But Litz digs deep and comes up with the essential differences between them -- life and death differences.

Willard Manus
Matchmaker, The
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

I’ve loved this play ever since I saw the incomparable Ruth Gordon enchant her audience and everyone on stage in it as Dolly Levi some 56 years ago.

Language Rooms
Los Angeles Theater Center

You'd think that a play set in an "undisclosed" Homeland Security black site -- read torture chamber -- would generate some intense dramatic heat. Alas, this fails to be the case with Language Rooms, a new drama by the prolific Arab-American playwright, Yussef El Guindi (winner of the Steinberg/American Theater Critics Association's 2012 best-play award for Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World).

Willard Manus
Pirates of Penzance, The
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

One of the celebratory elements of Stratford’s 60th Anniversary season is the return of famed alumni and their achievements at the festival. This popular Gilbert and Sullivan opera was one of the most acclaimed of the landmark series directed and choreographed by Brian MacDonald at Stratford in the 1980s; its filmed version is still sold in the Stratford store and around the world. Indeed, more than anyone else, MacDonald was responsible for developing a company of world-class singers and dancers among the Festival’s classical actors.

Herbert M. Simpson
Cymbeline
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

I sometimes think of director Antoni Cimolino as a mountain climber. He seems to prefer to tackle Mt. Everest-difficult plays instead of enjoying a stroll along the boardwalk like Harvey.

Herbert M. Simpson
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

Archness Alert: If you love the comic strip “Peanuts: and agree with this show’s program-book writers that it is art to be likened to Dickens, Balzac and Chaplin, this is the musical show for you. If, however, you’re not a fan of cutesy, repetitive comic-pages cartoon stories – like “Cathy,” “Beetle Bailey,” or in this case, “Peanuts,” you may find this simple re-enactment of the strip the equivalent of a ride on a small tricycle when you’ve paid for a limousine.

Herbert M. Simpson
pool (no water)
Flight Theater

British playwright Mark Ravenhill doesn't have much use for his fellow artists, at least not the ten underground artists he depicts in his 2006 play, Pool (No Water),which is now running at the Flight Theater as part of the 2012 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

A scruffy, foul-mouthed bunch known only as The Group, they are proudly anti-establishment and collective-minded -- that is, until one of them, a queenly figure (played robustly by Jessica Lamprinos) achieves fame and fortune with her latest work. Her mega-success triggers an eruption of jealousy and hatred.

Willard Manus
42nd Street
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

Okay, it’s a corny show, but it’s gaudy good fun. This ultimate Broadway showbiz story, 42nd Street, came back from a 1933 blockbuster film starring Ruby Keeler in Busby Berkeley’s elaborate dance routines and became a megahit musical, recreating its nostalgia and melodrama onstage. Still about becoming a star and creating a hit show, it also re-established tap dancing as a creative Broadway show element after tap had been dropped from new shows for decades.

Herbert M. Simpson
Los Otros
Mark Taper Forum

The CTG has had a rare miscue with its latest offering, Los Otros,a two-character musical starring Julio Monge and Michele Pawk, each of whom recites their personal history in two separate scenes. The music, played by an unseen 12-person orchestra, punctuates their arias in non-stop fashion. It's all very operatic, but, alas, it's opera without any real drama or tragedy.

Willard Manus
Much Ado About Nothing
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

Ontario’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s glittering opening week for its 60th anniversary season had an appropriate diamond brilliance. Indeed, the whole season sparkles with the return of many famed alumni performing, directing, designing, or just appearing on panels or in ceremonies [like actor Colm Feore, tied up in the current TV blockbuster, “The Borgias,” or Dame Maggie Smith returning to receive an overdue Canadian honor].

Herbert M. Simpson
Stoneface
Sacred Fools Theater

Following on the heels of its successful production of Louis & Keeley: Live at the Sahara, Sacred Fools Company has mounted another theatrical biography, Stoneface: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Buster Keaton. Written and directed by the same team responsible for Louis & Keeley,Vanessa Claire Stewart and Jaimie Robledo, respectively, the show stars French (“3rd Rock From the Sun”) Stewart as the iconic movie comic whose career was almost destroyed by alcoholism.

Willard Manus
Grace Notes and Anvils
Odyssey Theater

Grace Notes & Anvilsbegan life as a book, “About Grief: Insights, Setbacks, Grace Notes, Taboos” (published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2010). Because its authors, Marasco and Shuff, were also actors, they decided to adapt the book for the theater by turning it into a concert-reading play.

Willard Manus
Cowboy Versus Samurai
Boulevard Theater

Don’t let the title fool you. Cowboy versus Samuraiis not the kind of sophomoric comedy one might expect from this low-brow title. Instead, Michael Golomco’s comedy is wise, self-assured and thought-provoking. It’s also funny as hell.

Cowboy raises questions about cultural identity, self-hatred, bigotry and the range of human relationships – all of it set in a small, redneck town in Wyoming. There are only two Asians in this tumbleweed-strewn corner of America. As the play begins, the Asian men are holding a meeting of their two-member cultural awareness group.

Anne Siegel
Fanny Brice: America's Funny Girl
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

David H. Bell’s reworking of Fanny Brice: America’s Funny Girl, his 2009 hit at Maltz Jupiter Theater, bears the best qualities associated with Asolo Rep: strong, glitzy production values and performances to match. With only four actors, it yet shows off Fanny Brice in a fashion glittery enough to rival her original treatment by the Great Ziegfield. (He’s shown off, too.)

Marie J. Kilker
Synesthesia
Bootleg Theater

Synesthesiais a nifty revue featuring theater performers from eight different disciplines who have found a way to collaborate with each other in an organic and crowd-pleasing way. The annual show, which was first produced back in 2007, works like this: its performers are given a simple theme; this time around, it’s fortune.

Willard Manus
Ghost
Lunt-Fontanne Theater

“Ghost,” the 1990 film starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, was a memorable and money-making weeper, winning Whoppi Goldberg an Academy Award for her role as the sassy psychic, Oda Mae Brown. In the re-imagined stage transport from London, Ghost the Musical, the supernatural romance, might have benefited from the enhancement of music were it not overtaken by the competition of eye-popping technology and LED displays.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Moonlight and Magnolias
PLATO at Golden Apple Dinner Theater

Moonlight & Magnoliasplays out the (more or less) true story of how David O. Selznick, with Victor Fleming’s help, got Ben Hecht to finish the final script of “Gone with the Wind” in five frantic days (and nights). They’re locked in Selznick’s office with naught to eat but his idea of strengthening and brain food -- bananas and peanuts.

Marie J. Kilker
Sunday in the Park with George
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

Like repeated viewings of a famous work of art, the musical Sunday in the Park with George reveals more facets of the author’s/music director’s intent with each production. This may not be unusual, considering that the Tony Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-winning Sundayis actually based on a famous work of art. The painting in question, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat, hangs within the halls of nearby Chicago’s Art Institute.

Anne Siegel
Company
Geva Theater - Mainstage

Geva’s uneven but entertaining new version of Stephen Sondheim’s much-revived Company perhaps unintentionally demonstrates how often Sondheim’s dramatically unified and thematically conceived musicals nonetheless often play like revues. Because Sondheim provides so many individually varied showpieces for different members of their casts, his shows often find their highlights in numbers by supporting performers.

Herbert M. Simpson
Tribes
Barrow Street Theater

Nina Raine’s Tribes, directed by David Cromer, is an interesting exploration of deafness, its world, its nuances, in a dysfunctional family.

Richmond Shepard
Love Struck
Beverly Hills Playhouse

In Dale Griffiths Stamos' Love Struck, seven one-act plays about love, a large number of actors perform in a variety of settings that include a Catholic confessional, a nursing home, a living room and the office of a matchmaking service. The size of the cast, combined with the logistics of so many scene changes, creates problems for director Maggie Grant that she struggles to overcome, not always successfully (it doesn't help that she also acts in two of the scenes).

Willard Manus
Follies
Ahmanson Theater

A triumph in all departments, Follieshas hit L.A. with the overwhelming force of a tsunami. First seen at the JFK Center in Washington and then on Broadway, the show has checked into the Ahmanson for a month-long run that will surely draw full houses.

Willard Manus
Hamlet, Principe de Cuba
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts

Somehow the surtitles in English don’t quite go with the Spanish translation of Hamlet that’s heard in Hamlet, Principe de Cuba. But since the Spanish-language version is several times and ways removed from Shakespeare’s play, it suffers less than did the adaptation itself in English.

There’s still nothing onstage to distinguish the tropical setting as Cuba circa 1896, but there’s a very helpful special program. In Spanish, it gives an outline of Cuban history, illustrated.

Marie J. Kilker
Newsies
Nederlander Theater

Newsies, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, based on a newsboys’ strike in 1899, is one of the best produced and most excitingly designed (by Tobin Ost) shows I have ever seen. The magnificent erector-set columns, platforms and set pieces, in frequent manipulations, are complex, breath-taking, and brilliantly lighted by Jeff Croiter. Dancing, by the very acrobatic, ballet-based newsboys, is thrilling, and Newsiesis loaded with dance numbers that have the girls in the audience screaming with joy.

Richmond Shepard
Lyons, The
Cort Theater

Nicky Silver’s The Lyonsis an exceptionally enjoyable evening. The star, Linda Lavin, gives a stylized, very external but comfortably comedic performance as a wife in lifelong battle with her now-dying husband in a hospital room. She can really deliver a line, and there are plenty of zingers. She’s a comedic genius with impeccable timing that hits every note, and takes it beyond the writing with her gesture, face, comic sense. She’s a superb mugger, with a sense of being absolutely real.

Richmond Shepard
Burnt at the Steak
Richmond Shepard Theater

I saw Carolann Valentino’s show, Burnt at the Steak, the heart of which is showing us the life of a restaurant manager and all the people in her life, including her Italian mother in Texas, the customers and the wait staff. She’s a very beautiful, remarkably energetic singer/dancer comedian with super jokes and amazing clear, clean characterizations. She’s a dancin’ twirlin’ fool with great personal charm whose delineation of recognizable distinct characters is hilarious, each notched up just a tad into very funny caricatures.

Richmond Shepard
Things That Go Ding
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

Things That Go Ding!, a highly theatrical musical revue, had modest beginnings. It first appeared as an after-hours cabaret act. However, it was such a hit that the creators conspired to produce this expanded, two-hour production.

An unseen announcer now opens the show by referring to Things That Go Ding! as “not good enough for the main stage, but too loud for the street.” Well, it may not be Shakespeare, or Mozart, but Ding! certainly surpasses such modest claims.

Anne Siegel
City Club, The
Minetta Lane Theater

I stood behind a lamppost, wearing my grey fedora, illuminated only by a dim streetlamp as I smoked a cigarette and watched the film noir musical, The City Club, with its high-steppin’, long-legged, gorgeous chorus girls. Narrated by a “Play it again, Sam” piano player/singer, Kenny Brawner, tickling the ivories, with a hot band behind him, this stylized musical, book by Glenn M.

Richmond Shepard
Leap of Faith
St. James Theater

Leap of Faith, book by Janus Cercone and Warren Leight, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, is a gospel musical about a con-man preacher and the small, drought-ridden town he plans to suck the last penny out of. Despite good songs and a lively singing, dancing cast, the show has problems. The first act, where characters, motivations and relationships are established, is filled with a mish-mash of production numbers by the fancifully costumed (by William Ivey Long) chorus.

Richmond Shepard
Peter and the Starcatcher
Brooks Atkinson Theater

Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice is a real oddball, with a separate style in each act. Act one has some brilliant physical staging by Steven Hoggett, with synchronized movements, abrupt stops and quick light changes in time with the movements, creating a stylized world. Act two sticks with the story of Peter’s evolution with none of that action style.

You know what it’s about -- How did Peter become Pan? It starts with the cast showing a lot of cuteness, and they are quite conscious of it.

Richmond Shepard
Magic/Bird

Eric Simonson’s Magic/Bird is an exciting exploration of the relationship between two of basketball’s greatest: Magic Johnson and Larry Bird from 1979 to 1992. It’s an exhilarating, very theatrical trip — a sharp integration of actors and film of the actuals. The play has a lot of charm and humanity as we see comparisons of the parents and families of the two men from working-class beginnings and their gradual, slowly-growing friendship.

Richmond Shepard
Clybourne Park
Walter Kerr Theater

Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, well-directed and staged by Pam MacKinnon, is a very wordy play on an interesting subject – the racial transformation of neighborhoods. It’s performed by an excellent ensemble cast, with great lighting by Allen Lee Hughes on Daniel Ostling’s just-right set. However, the play doesn’t really start until more than twenty minutes into it, when the basic concept is first introduced.

Richmond Shepard
Pianist of Willesden Lane, The
Geffen Playhouse

Concert pianist Mona Golabek makes her acting debut in a solo show adapted from her book about her Austrian mother, Lisa Jura, who at age fourteen was sent by her family to England aboard the kinderstransport. Jura might have escaped the clutches of the Nazis, but she had to face life on her own in a series of grim foster homes and institutions. What kept her strength and spirits up was her love of the piano, and her determination to play professionally, just as her mother had done before her.

Willard Manus

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