Le Jardin des Amours Enchantees
La Comedie Italienne

The modest-sized Comedie Italienne has had some exquisite settings on its stage and extravagant costumes on its actors, but its “Enchanted Garden” (Le Jardin des Amours Enchantees) reaches new heights of gossamer beauty. It’s as if playwright Goldoni has atypically conquered the realm of his arch rival, the rarely realistic Gozzi. Director Attilio Maggiulli has clearly had fun blending the traditions of the two, without de-emphasizing the influence of commedia dell ‘arte.

Marie J. Kilker
Dancing in the Street with the Prima Donnettes
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

A sequel to a show named for the “girl group” of the title, The Prima Donnettes, this edition has four pretty women dancing--not on the streets--but before the red-blue-purple curtained backdrop of Florida Studio Theater’s newest cabaret. No matter the title, the revue keeps the audience in its seats--but clapping, clapping, even as part of a song arrangement or two.

Marie J. Kilker
Santaland Diaries, The
The Working Stage Theater

Matt Crabtree as a solo elf in David Sedaris’s Christmas classic, The Santaland Diaries? What a great holiday present! Crabtree has a ball impersonating Sedaris who, when he was a 33-year-old unemployed actor (and dead-broke, to boot), took a job at Macy’s in Herald Square as one of Santa’s elfin helpers. Togged out in a ridiculous costume, he was required to somehow entertain the army of kids and parents awaiting their chance to meet Father Nick (yet another unemployed actor).

Willard Manus
Novecento
Theatre du Rond-Point/Salle Renaud-Barrault

At the turn of the 20th Century, the titular Novecento, a baby abandoned under a ship’s piano and raised by a steward to age eight, became a great jazz pianist. A trumpeter, who befriended and got closest to him on many a Transatlantic voyage, tells Novecento’s story, punctuated by an onstage jazz band.

Marie J. Kilker
Christmas Carol, A
Bath House Cultural Center

One Thirty Productions opened A Christmas Carol: The Radio Show by David Alberts on December 3, 2014 at the Bath House Cultural Center. The premise of the show is that a small-town radio station is set to present a production of Charles Dickens's iconic A Christmas Carol.It is December 24, 1947, and station manager Bob Bennett (B.J. Cleveland) is about to announce the show when he receives a phone call telling him that all 24 cast members are snowed in by a blizzard.

Rita Faye Smith
Luna Gale
Kirk Douglas Theater

The Chicago theater world proudly struts its stuff in Luna Gale, the new Rebecca Gilman play now in an L.A. run at the Kirk Douglas Theater. Gilman wrote the play for Chicago’s Goodman Theater where she is an artistic associate. After a successful world-premiere run earlier this year, the production has been transferred to L.A., with the same cast, crew and director (Robert Falls) reprising their work. This explains why everything about the piece seems so well-honed, so crisp and sharp.

Willard Manus
Show Trash
Connelly Theater

Most comedians and comic actors hide behind a mask, real or scripted, that allows them to play the character that has made them famous or infamous. Once stripped away, these actors become their real selves and generally the “real’ human is nothing like their stage alter ego. When John Epperson steps onto the stage and seas himself behind a baby grand, we can’t see Lypsinka his stage persona, in which he becomes Joan Crawford or other divas.

Tim Glasby
My Son the Waiter
Stage 72

My Son the Waiter - A Jewish Tragedy, written by and starring Brad Zimmerman, gives us very dry funny stories of his life. This includes his path to comedy performance as a waiter and playing the waiter and the customers in a very funny and clean delivery. He’s a mocker but always quite likable, and includes as his targets health food, a plane trip and fashion modeling. Some bits are profound, all are funny, with funny physical character moves, among them bits on golf, hairdo, dating, mother, and being bald.

Richmond Shepard
River, The
Circle in the Square

There are lots of big name actors on Broadway but very few real stars. Hugh Jackman has the rare ability to not only draw in an audience but to hold us in the palm of his hand throughout the performance. It has been said that in The River,Jackman withholds his usual charm. This is entirely untrue. Without his natural charisma, this soufflé of banality, pseudo-mystery, and excess verbiage would fall in on itself within the first ten minutes.

Michall Jeffers
Under Milkwood
Theatre de Nesle

A voice in the darkness quotes from a letter about the town of Llareggub whose story, in Under Milkwood, begins out of darkness. It becomes a tale of its inhabitants over a day and night. Dylan Thomas called it “a play for voices,” and the five Dear Conjunction actors render them all, distinctly and well, under varying lights.

Marie J. Kilker
How to Become Parisian in One Hour
Theatre des Nouveautes

He comes on like a chubby hayseed in overalls and farmer’s straw hat. The curtain closes. A voice asks you for preparations to clap. The curtain opens on Olivier Giraud, a young Frenchman. A stay in the U.S.A. has made him different.

Marie J. Kilker
Liberace!
Milwaukee Repertory Theater

In staging Liberace! , the Milwaukee Repertory Theater reprises one of its most-requested shows in the intimate Stackner Cabaret. This show is well worth an encore, both for the quality of its star performer – Jack Forbes Wilson, who again appears as “Mr. Showmanship” – and the elaborate costumes, sets and lighting. Together, they bring enough glitter and glamour to light up the Las Vegas strip (where Liberace became a household name, by the way).

Anne Siegel
Cudahy Caroler Christmas, A
Tenth Street Theater

The familiar gang of In Tandem revelers is back for another run of a Milwaukee Christmas classic, A Cudahy Caroler Christmas. This lively show revolves around a loosely knit plot regarding poor Stasch Zielinski (artistic director Chris Flieller), who attempts to reunite a community choir that disbanded five years ago. Hurtful comments between Stasch and his former best friend, Pee Wee (Nathan Wesselowski), were the main cause of the choir’s break up.

Anne Siegel
Magnificent Dunbar Hotel, The
Los Angeles Theater Center

The protagonist of Levy Lee Simon’s world premiere play is an inanimate object: the Dunbar Hotel. Built in 1930, the Dunbar sat at the heart of south-central L.A.’s black ghetto (racial “covenants” prohibited blacks from living elsewhere in the city). The Dunbar was an elegant hostelry where such showbiz luminaries as Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Ethel Waters–-plus intellectuals like W.E.B. Dubois and Paul Robeson–-could stay when they visited L.A. The Magnificent Dunbar Hotelcarves out a big chunk of history: seventy-eight years’ worth, to be exact.

Willard Manus
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

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