Dandy Dick
Theatre Royal

Dandy Dick, the first production launched by a brand-new partnership between several large regional theaters in the UK, made a sparkling debut at Theatre Royal, Glasgow. The Victorian comedy by Arthur Wing Pinero was written in 1887, but it has been given a fresh gloss by director Christopher Lucombe, whose specialty is classic comedies.

Willard Manus
Miss Lilly Gets Boned
New Ohio Theater

Bekah Brunsteller’s Miss Lilly Gets Boned is a captivating piece of rare theatricality involving a huge, very animated, three-man elephant puppet (ala War Horse), the elephant’s psychotherapist (the sensitive Sanam Erfani), and, in a parallel story, two sisters, one a profligate (the vivid Liz Wisan), one a 30 year old virgin (the super-charming, highly-talented and skilled, good-looking Jessica Dickey). The latter meets a South African father (Chris Thorn) and his precocious son (David Rosenblatt) whose mother was killed by an elephant.

Richmond Shepard
Billy Elliot
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

Almost any review is certain to short-change the magic that is Billy Elliott the Musical. Words alone cannot describe the unique chemistry among all the elements that come together in this award-winning musical. The North American tour gave Milwaukee audiences their first look at this international sensation.

Anne Siegel
Henry V
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

Some of Des McAnuff’s trademark theatrical tricks are in evidence in this entirely effective but not always affecting Henry V:wild fight scenes, flights of arrows onstage, much live music throughout , battles up and down a drawbridge thrust downstage, rapid scene shifts, etc.; but the action is mostly across the downstage area, making little use of the Festival Theatre’s huge thrust stage and multiple entrances and exits.

Herbert M. Simpson
Piano Teacher, The
Florida State University for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Shock and awe! A thriller with secrets to be revealed, dealing with a moral problem -- not far from an education-related scandal in today’s headlines. Yet in the sparsely appointed parlor where, centered in old armchair with antimacassar and faded as the rose wallpaper, sits arthritic Mrs. K. Obviously lonely, she welcomes us as her guests. (We can’t help but respond to Donna Gerdes’ warmth, her portrayal of need for human contact.)

Marie J. Kilker
Hirsch
Stratford Shakespeare Festival - Studio Theater

I truly do not know what to make of this work. It was “created and conceived” and entirely performed by Alon Nashman, and the program notes make it clear that its picture of the late, former artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, John Hirsch, is a personal and creative one, not entirely historically accurate, but based upon reports and observations of Nashman and many artistic associates of Hirsch. I saw and heard references to this new play as a “tribute” to John Hirsch.

Herbert M. Simpson
Wanderlust
Stratford Festival - Tom Patterson Theater

This is a narrated, dramatized history-biography, with some songs and dances, and recitations of Service’s popular poems. So we might as well call Wanderlust a musical.

To be fair to those who really like Robert Service’s poetry, and even those who think it important, I should note that Panych and Norman have created a pleasant little drama with some appealing music, some of it an accurate account of Service’s life, and got it staged with winning skill by Stratford’s extraordinarily gifted performers and designers.

Herbert M. Simpson
Anne of Green Gables
Concordia University - Todd Wehr Auditorium

This classic, turn-of-the-century novel, turned into a musical by Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, could strike some modern audiences as Pollyannaish. Anne of Green Gablesis an innocent tale about a young orphan taken in by an aging couple (brother and sister) in a faraway state. However, the arrival of this 11-year-old girl, Anne Shirley, is met with surprise and derision. The couple “ordered” for a boy who could help Matthew around the farm. “What use do we have for a girl?” asks Marilla, a humorless, no-nonsense woman who prefers function to frivolity.

Anne Siegel
All Shook Up
PLATO at Golden Apple Dinner Theater

Everyone can find something to be happily All Shook Upabout in PLATO’s upbeat rock-and-rolling comedy at The Golden Apple Dinner Theater. For fans of Elvis’ music, for lovers of Shakespeare who’ll search for story and added references to his plays and sonnets, for anyone who likes satirical bites at social excesses and prejudices, exuberant performances match author Joe DiPietro’s typical excess of plot. Motorcyclist Chad (sexy, exciting Logan O’Neill) roars into a stuffy ‘50s Midwest town in black leather jacket and with guitar at hand.

Marie J. Kilker
The Sensational Josephine Baker
Samuel Beckett Theater

How did Freda Josephine McDonald become The Sensational Josephine Baker? It was not due to her exceptional singing voice, graceful dancing or great beauty. Baker was actually tall and scrawny with buckteeth and an elastic face that twisted into comedic contortions. Her limbs flew about with abandon and her voice was aggressive. What she did have was a fierce personality and inner drive that made her the toast of Paris in the years between the wars.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Iceman Cometh, The
Goodman Theater

When a theater company tackles something as weighty as a Eugene O’Neill play, it doesn’t forge ahead lightly. That was evident with the Goodman Theatre’s “major revival” of The Iceman Cometh, which received such popular critical notices and audience reaction that its run has been extended. The Chicago production is directed by the notable Robert Falls.

Anne Siegel
War Horse
Ahmanson Theater

A miracle show about a miracle horse.

War Horse, which premiered in London in 2007 and won five Tony Awards for its 2011 Broadway run, has checked into the Ahmanson as part of its national tour. With its epic story, dazzling puppetry, gifted cast and impeccable production values, War Horse is without question one of the great theatrical events of our time.

Willard Manus
Eastland
Lookingglass Theater

The world premiere of the musicalEastlandopened at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre, with a script by Artistic Director Andrew White and music by Ben Sussman and artistic associate Andre Pluess. The result is promising but still feels like a work in progress.

The show’s current length, 90 minutes, doesn’t allow much time for character development, which makes Eastland less than it could be.

Anne Siegel
Lesson from Aloes, A
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Following a failed revolt against apartheid in South Africa, 1963, a trio of survivors -- or are they? -- will meet for a reunion and a parting. Afrikaner Piet works on his aloes collection, especially naming what he thinks is a new species found on the land his family’s farmed for ages, but no longer. Naming or classification of people distinguished the political “system” and also displaced his wife Gladys. She’s back from being nursed for a nervous breakdown.

Marie J. Kilker
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

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