Lucille Lortel Theater

Ben Johnson’s satirical Volpone, first performed over 400 years ago, still entertains as a cynical exposure of greed. In Red Bull Theater’s current version, Stephen Spinella plays the title role as a fey farceur with a padded crotch and a kind of graceful vulgarity as he feigns illness and near death to squeeze gifts from the people who hope to be his inheritors. All give expensive tributes and parade their greed, with the connivance of Mosca (Cameron Folman), chief assistant and parasite to Volpone.

Richmond Shepard
Mystery of Edwin Drood, The
Studio 54

Originally produced at the 1985 New York Shakespeare Festival, the Roundabout Theater Company’s current revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Studio 54 offers audiences over two-and-a-half hours of free-wheeling, silly vitality. The novel by Dickens was never finished but as a musical, Droodis as colorful and crammed as a quaint Victorian English cottage.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Public Theater

These days, Off Broadway, and especially at a not-for-profit venue, you don’t see a big, sprawling, three-hour musical (with a cast of 25+ and 17+ musicians). But what other treatment could you expect for Michael John LaChiusa and Sybille Pearson’s adaptation of the 400+ pages of Edna Ferber’s sweeping tale of three generations of Texans, Giant?It covers the `30s, the U.S. entry into WWII, and on to the `50s oil boom that changed Texas forever. (The engagement at the Public Theater has been extended through December 16, 2012.)

Ellis Nassour
Second City Dysfunctional Holiday Revue, The
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts - Vogel Hall

Chicago’s famed Second City comedy troupe makes its first Milwaukee appearance in The Second City Dysfunctional Holiday Revue. Milwaukee is one stop on the company’s national tour, in which young comedians get to test their wings at improvisation as well as rehearsed vignettes. On opening night, the event drew a decent-sized crowd to Milwaukee’s Vogel Hall. All that was missing was the laughter. The actors had far more misses than hits in its weak line-up.

Anne Siegel
Cudahy Caroler Christmas, A
Tenth Street Theater

This long-running holiday hit returns to Milwaukee’s In Tandem Theater, much to the delight of adoring local theatergoers. Look around the audience and you’ll see many Milwaukee-born folks. They know the difference between a Polish “punchki” and a “pierogi” (for the rest of you, the first item (poonch-kee) comes from a bakery, and the second (pee-ROW-gee) is a meat-and-potato-filled pie). One look at the Green Bay Packers’ memorabilia-adorned set, and you know A Cudahy Caroler Christmashas returned.

Anne Siegel
The Second City's A Christmas Carol
Kirk Douglas Theater

Second City meets Charles Dickens, and the result is the rudest, most outrageous and hilarious Christmas Carolyou'll probably ever see.

The scripted show pokes zany and profane fun at the venerable Christmas classic, with Santa, baby Jesus and Dean Martin's sappy holiday songs coming in for ribbing as well. Not even the crippled Tiny Tim escape's Second City's satirical assault on the holiday season's sugary sentimentality.

Willard Manus
Forbidden Broadway
47th Street Theater

In all my years of working in and reviewing theater, I have rarely seen an ensemble that reaches the level of the four amazing performers in the very splashy newest edition of Forbidden Broadway. Natalie Charlé Ellis, Scott Richard Foster, Jenny Lee Stern and Marcus Stevens, all superb physical comedians, extraordinary impressionists and top-level singers with great range, inflections and power, satirize most of what is playing on Broadway, give impressions of singing stars that are absurdly accurate, and all show a range of talent that is the best there is.

Richmond Shepard
Anything Goes
Ahmanson Theater

The national touring company of the Tony-winning Anything Goesis tapdancing up a storm at the Ahmanson Theater. Led by the effervescent Rachel York, the musical's cast does a lot of fast and tricky tapping, with military-like timing and precision.

Willard Manus
Cold Snaps
Workshop Theater - Mainstage

Workshop Theater Company’s show of seven one-acts, Cold Snaps, gives us a well-produced, enjoyable presentation of plays written by their members: The Latest News from the Primordial Ooze by Rich Orloff, a cute, zany display of evolution from the aquatic; Look me in the Eyes by Margo Hammond about couple communication; Sugarplum by Scott C.

Richmond Shepard
Neil Simon Theater

Kathie Lee Gifford’s show Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson(she wrote the book, lyrics and some of the music — David Pomeranz and David Friedman wrote most of the catchy, memorable music) about the life and career of the famous/infamous super evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, who brought theatricality to preaching, is a well-written, terrific musical that grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go. After a gospel opening, Carolee Carmello, playing Amy, opens up her pipes, and she has me. Her performance grows and blossoms.

Richmond Shepard
Garden of Delights
Theater for the New City

Do you have a sense of adventure? An appetite for the odd, strange, bizarre? Performance art filled with lots of action and surprises? Try The New Stage Theater Company’s Garden of Delights by Fernando Arrabal as imaginatively directed by Ildiko Nemeth at the Theatre for the New City. This is theater of the absurd plus dada.

Richmond Shepard
Emergency a la Carte
Theater Row Studio Theater

Nancy Redman is a top-level comedian whose very funny one-woman show, Emergency a la Carte, is an encounter with Death. We learn the comedian’s obligation: Kill or Die.

She jokes to assuage Death, and she’s terrific, with a great sense of the incongruous — joke after joke works: laugh after laugh.

Richmond Shepard

The combination of F. Scott Fitzgerald's sinuous prose and clever staging help turn the marathon reading of “The Great Gatsby” into a memorable theatrical event.

The company behind the production, New York-based Elevator Repair Service, has been working on the project since 1999, trying to find the right way to bring non-theatrical material to the stage without going the adaptation route. The result is GATZ, now playing at Redcat in downtown L.A. in a production that runs just short of nine hours (with brief but welcome breaks for food and drink).

November 2012
Coney Island Christmas
Geffen Playhouse

Playwright Donald Margulies has taken Grace Paley's short story, “The Loudest Voice,” and turned it into a family holiday show, Coney Island Christmas, now in its world-premiere run at the Geffen Playhouse.

Willard Manus
Collected Stories
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

The battle of wills between an accomplished writer/professor and a promising student creates the necessary conflict in Pulitzer Prize-winning Donald Margulies’ 1997 play, Collected Stories.The play begins in 1990 as renowned short story writer Ruth Steiner meets with a student to analyze the latter’s writing. Instead of meeting on campus, Ruth suggests they meet at her Greenwich Village apartment. It is the same apartment where Ruth has lived for 30 years. The student, amazed at being admitted to Ruth’s inner sanctum, is almost too overcome to speak.

Anne Siegel
Blood Potato
Clurman Theater

“Everybody bleeds” is the subhead for this Apothecary Theater Company production of Blood Potato. It is an accurate description of sitting through this play about family dysfunction in the midst of a “crank” epidemic in the broken-down steel town Donora, PA. “Crank” is a slang name for methamphetamine, and “teeners” are a name given to some users, in this case, Fly (Zack Griffiths), and Janelle, beautifully played by Beth Wittig.

Scott Bennett
Odyssey Theater Ensemble/Fishamble

The Irish writer/performer Pat Kinevane has brought his latest solo play, Silent, to the Odyssey Theater in a West Coast premiere. Kinevane, attached to the Fishamble New Play Company in Dublin, had a big success in 2007 with Forgotten, which went on to win numerous theater awards around the world. Silentis following along the same path.

Willard Manus
It's a Wonderful Life Live Radio Show
Next Act Theater

It’s always nice to see a familiar face during the holidays, isn’t it? While the cast of Next Act Theater’s production of It’s a Wonderful Life Live Radio Showmay not know members in the audience, faithful Milwaukee theatergoers certainly know them. Together, the show’s six actors have a combined total of hundreds of hours onstage in Milwaukee.

Sound of Music, The
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

One of the most popular American musicals of all time makes its debut at Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theater as The Sound of Musictakes the Skylight stage for the first time in the company’s 54-year history. Pre-sale tickets were so strong that the show has been extended to an unprecedented eight-week run.

Anne Siegel
Bright New Boise, A
Theater Theater

Pathological religious belief is the theme of A Bright New Boise, Samuel D. Hunter's 2011 Obie Award-winning play which is now in its West Coast premiere at Rogue Machine Theater. Set in the employee lounge of a Boise department store run in fascistic fashion by a corporate behemoth -- clerks are not only paid starvation wages but controlled by Big Brother rules and regulations -- the play centers on Will (Matthew Elkins), a shambling wreck of a man who has fled his Idaho small town for dark personal reasons.

Willard Manus
Rock of Ages
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

The feel-good musical, Rock of Ages, finally travels to Milwaukee more than three years after the show opened on Broadway. With a thin romantic plot and a heavy dollop of hit songs from the 1980s, Rockis a Tony-nominated musical that has traveled worldwide, attracting audiences from all over the globe. The show’s main attraction is its string of well-known hits from the 1980s, from pop-rock groups such as Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Pat Benetar and Whitesnake.

November 2012
Waist Watchers
Ramada Waterfront

If you’re looking for a fun girl’s night out, this is one to see and hear, shake your hands and sway in your seat to. Waist Watchers, much like Menopause: The Musical, injects lyrical parody into pop music. All’s in service to a small plot that reveals four gals’ struggles with their weight and how it affects each one’s love life.

Marie J. Kilker
Cort Theater

The opening beat of Graceby Craig Wright starts with a BANG! A strange, very nervous man (Paul Rudd) shoots himself and others. We seem to have a dissolve, and the play starts as a flashback.

Richmond Shepard
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Booth Theater

Oh, that George and Martha, a marital duo who might be described as a stiff martini robustly shaken, not stirred. There is no holding back the ferocious subtext of this marriage. Yet despite the bluster and fireworks of one drunken devastating evening, under Pam MacKinnon’s discerning direction, this riveting new Steppenwolf Theater production of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?builds confidently toward its shocking finale.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Performers, The
Longacre Theater

The Performersby David West Read, set at The Adult Film Awards, is real theater of the absurd and is also a wicked weird reality that pushes boundaries in subject matter and language.

Richmond Shepard
Golden Land, The
Baruch Performing Arts Center

The Golden Land, a period musical created by Zalmen Mlotek & Moishe Rosenfeld in 1985 and now directed with great timing and verve by Bryna Wasserman, is a sweet show about the immigrant experiences of Eastern European Jews in the late 1800’s, the 1910’s and in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s.

Richmond Shepard
Twelfth Night
Florida Stage University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

FSU/Asolo Conservatory gives Sarasota an autumn Twelfth Nightin pretty much the same youthful spirit and modernity, including musical performance, as PLATO Arts did at The Golden Apple Dinner Theater last summer. Only this show’s done up with sleeker scene (tiled black-and-white plus red- shuttered, more lush (and expensive) costumes, and mostly actual Shakespearian dialogue.

Marie J. Kilker
Bald Soprano, The
City Garage

City Garage successfully revisits its 2007 production of The Bald Soprano, the famous absurdist comedy by Eugene Ionesco. City Garage's French-born artistic director Frederique Michel is an Ionesco specialist, as this production proves yet again.

Willard Manus
Long Way Home, The
United States Veterans' Artists Alliance Theater

In The Long Way Home, John DiFusco looks back at the origins of his world-changing Vietnam war play, Tracers, with characteristic power, honesty and compassion. A not-quite one-man show -- Al. Keith deftly helps with percussion and voices -- The Long Way Homeis dedicated to "the 59,000 who missed The Freedom Bird" -- in other words, all those who died in that terrible and unnecessary war.

Willard Manus
Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche
Soho Playhouse

Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood’s 5 Lesbians Eating a Quichehas a great title. Directed by Sarah Gitenstein, it’s a silly show by five actresses trying to be funny at a quiche breakfast, all but one from the same small town, each with a different accent. The foolishness drones on and on until an atomic bomb falls (it’s 1956, and their meeting place is bomb-proof).

Richmond Shepard
5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche

See review(s) under "Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche"

Old Jews Telling Jokes
Westside Theater

Old Jews Telling Jokesis 90 minutes of laughter – if not an outright belly laugh then at least a chuckle. There are old jokes told in a new way and new jokes told in an unexpected way. The jokes are not restricted to an ethnic type or religion but are universal in their appeal.

Scott L. Bennett, Jr.
Playwrights Horizons

Detroitby Lisa D'Amour is a dysfunctional play about two dysfunctional couples living in a dysfunctional community that is not Detroit. The piece is well directed by Anne Kauffman who tries to guide the able cast through a story that leaves one wondering about the point of the play.

Scott L. Bennett, Jr.
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

The subject of women and friendship gets a Latin twist in Enfrascada, written by award-winning, Mexican-born playwright Tanya Saracho. It’s a play that delights with its marvelous dialogue, even as its plot begins to unravel in the later scenes. In any case, Rennaisance Theaterworks deserves credit for showcasing a female playwright who has a lot to say about the experience of Hispanic women.

Anne Siegel
Irena's Vow
Cardinal Stritch University - Nancy Kendall Theater

In the category of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, Irena’s Vowtells the remarkable story of a young Polish woman in 1939. Although she was raised in an affluent, protective Catholic family, her world is shattered at age 18 when the Russians, then the Germans, seized her area of Poland. She ends up hiding 12 Jews in the basement of a villa temporarily occupied by the area’s top Nazi officer. The play is based on the true story of Irena Gut Opdyke.

Anne Siegel
Diary of Anne Frank, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

The real Anne Frank never survived the war that confined her to an upstairs apartment for more than two years, but her words live on in her now-famous diary. The Diary of Anne Frank, produced by Milwaukee Repertory Theater, does an excellent job of bringing back the spirit of Anne Frank and the times that shaped her brief life during World War II.

Anne Siegel
3LD Art & Tech Center

Flight 18 – The Cosmic Joyrideis just that. It’s a performance-art space trip through the universe performed by an attractive, lively cast of flight attendants (dancers, singers, actors) in the manner of a structured “Happening” from the ‘60’s. In the very large space at 3 Legged Dog Art and Technology Center at 80 Greenwich Street downtown, we are given boarding passes and enter the ship, which has huge screens on three sides and a cosmic disc jockey on the fourth.

Richmond Shepard
Summer Day, A
Cherry Lane Theater

It’s nice to see the lovely actress Karen Allen alive and cookin’ on the stage. Too bad it’s in a muddled, pretentious turkey, A Summer Day, by Norwegian writer Jon Fosse, whom they claim is an award winner.

A man (McCaleb Burnett) left on his boat and didn’t return. His woman (Allen) stands at the window waiting, looking for him. For years. Godot never comes. She’s grown much older as she waits. The situation? He must be on the water; she can’t be on the water. Over and over and over. Two immovable objects who don’t honor each others needs.

Richmond Shepard
In the Red and Brown Water
Fountain Theater

Drawing on Federico Garcia Lorca, West African culture and The Hood in a single work is the challenge Tarell Alvin McCraney has taken on in In the Red and Brown Water, now in its L.A. premiere at the Fountain Theater. The heavily symbolic play, part of a trilogy, has been seen in New York, London and Chicago (where the Chicago Tribune called McCraney "the hottest young playwright in America.")

Willard Manus
Theater in the Dark - Part One
Odyssey Theater

It's like listening to radio in the dark. You sit in blackness at the Odyssey Theater while various short plays take place on an equally unlit stage. Sound is the sense that takes over; the actors are onstage but unseen as they move about and speak their lines. Music and sound effects are heard from time to time. It's all very spooky, experimental and heartfelt (the actors worked for months on Theater in the Dark, and even created some of the stygian skits.

Willard Manus