I'll Eat You Last
Booth Theater

The evening of delicious dish is called I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers, but the centerpiece is really the Divine Miss M. She plays the late Hollywood super-agent Mengers who dishes about her “twinkies.” If it weren’t for the audience’s love affair with Midler, John Logan’s (Red)one-act memoir at the Booth Theater would fade under its own scantiness and irrelevancy.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Annie
Palace Theater

The revival of the musical Annie, book by Thomas Meehan, is a great show in all departments.

Richmond Shepard
Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Mark Taper Forum

August Wilson's 1986 play, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, part of his Century Cycle, has been triumphantly revived at the Taper, thanks to the splendid work of its cast and director. Credit the Center Theater Group, as well, for providing strong production values -- especially John Iacovelli's lavish boardinghouse set and Karen Perry's evocative period costumes.

Willard Manus
Amish Project, The
Raymond James Theater

The Amish Projectis a theater piece crafted for a virtuoso performance. It gets that at American Stage from Katherine Michelle Tanner. She becomes seven different characters in a fictionalized version of the killing of rural Pennsylvania Amish schoolgirls on October 2, 2006.

Marie J. Kilker
Testament of Mary, The
Walter Kerr Theater

I like Colm Toibin’s play The Testament of Mary,which has a contemporary Mary reminiscing about the death of her son, Jesus, two thousand years ago. But the evening starts by assaulting us with a disorientating, irritating soundscape that drones on for fifteen minutes as we walk up onto the stage and look at props, a live bird, and the actress Fiona Shaw in a glass booth preparing. As directed by Deborah Warner, Ms Shaw gives us a very strong, active, but quite masculine performance of a woman I had thought of as warm, feminine, maternal.

Richmond Shepard
Matilda
Shubert Theater

While the musical Matilda(book by Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, directed by Matthew Warchus) has lots of theatrical flashes and pyrotechnics in it, and a cute-as-a-button lead, Oona Laurence, as the smart girl surrounded by fools, it is an overly long, loud, raucous poorly-constructed play, filled mostly with caricatures rather than characters.

Richmond Shepard
Trip to Bountiful, The
Stephen Sondheim Theater

The current revival of Horton Foote’s wonderful play, The Trip to Bountiful, is a beautiful rendering of the work in all departments. The story of an irrepressible old woman (Cicely Tyson in a powerful, nuanced performance) who wants to see her ancestral home one more time, contrary to the wishes of her staid son (Cuba Gooding Jr) and his shrewish wife (Vanessa Williams), is sensitively directed by Michael Wilson, who allows Foote’s words to flow with a natural grace.

Richmond Shepard
Pippin
Music Box Theater

I never saw Pippin (book by Roger O. Hirson, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz) before and was delighted to find it to be a thrilling, circus-and-vaudeville spectacular filled with stylized silliness, lively gymnastics and acrobatics, sparkling original costumes (by Dominique Lemieux) and strong performances by the entire terrific cast. It’s sort of about Charlemagne (a powerful Terrence Mann), the king of France, and who will succeed him — perhaps his son Pippin (the really cute, warm, sensitive Matthew James Thomas).

Richmond Shepard
I'll Eat You Last
Booth Theater

Bette Midler’s portrayal of agent Sue Mengers in John Logan’s I’ll Eat You Last, directed by Joe Mantello, is a vivid portrait of a larger-than-life Hollywood character, performed with a verve and energy that capture us from start to finish. Midler is a great actress, with a sense of timing and nuance stirred into a very large characterization that can remain subtle and broad at the same time.

Richmond Shepard
Annapurna
Odyssey Theater

Sharr White's riveting two-person play, Annapurna. pits burned-out poet Ulysses (Nick Offerman) against his ex-wife, Emma (Megan Mullally), who has unexpectedly shown up after having walked out on him twenty years ago (for reasons that aren't revealed until the climactic moments of the play). There is a third character in Annapurna: murder.

Willard Manus
Re-Designing Women
Rose Room

Uptown Players, Dallas' premier gay-themed theater company, presents writer Jamie Morris' re-imagined parody of the popular 1986-93 TV sitcom, “Designing Women.” The original starred the late Dixie Carter as haughty, sensible, Julia Sugarbaker who, with her ex-beauty-queen sister, Suzanne (Delta Burke), operated an interior design firm, Sugarbakers, from their living room in Atlanta.

Rita Faye Smith
Nance, The
Lyceum Theater

Douglas Carter Beane’s The Nance,nimbly directed by Jack O’Brien with impeccable timing and with vivid choreography by Joey Pizzi, is a laugh-filled, terrific Burlesque show, headed by America’s greatest comedian, Nathan Lane. He plays a gay vaudeville performer doing a gay (“Nance”) character in 1938.

Richmond Shepard
Mystery of Irma Vep, The
Next Act Theater

The only way to enjoy Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep is to completely surrender to its insane charm. If this play can’t be called “the kitchen sink,” then no theatrical endeavor could claim it. Irma Vepcontains almost everything imaginable: from aristocrats to servants, mummies, vampires, werewolves, scientists, Egyptian guides and all sorts of wives, both living and dead. Added to this lunacy, the play’s pacing is so fast that the audience’s multiple waves of laughter threaten to drown out some of the funnier bits of dialogue.

Anne Siegel
Nance, The
Lyceum Theater

Nathan Lane shines as Chauncey Miles in The Nance by Douglas Carter Beane (Cinderella, As Bees in Honey Drown).The Lincoln Center Theater production at the Lyceum Theater is a rich, provocative romance driven by social demands that undercut personal needs. Beane’s humor comes packaged with pathos, and Nathan Lane ties the two together with brilliant sensitivity, delivering a well-faceted portrayal of a gay performer at the seedy Irving Place Theater during the last days of burlesque.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Orphans
Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

Lyle Kessler’s Orphansis a surreal nightmare about two brothers — orphans. One (Tom Sturridge) is a severely retarded man whose manner of speaking presents an IQ of about 58, and the physicality of a chimpanzee who bounds around the set, jumping from railing to window ledge to couch. The other brother, Ben Foster, a criminal, brings home a drunk, Alec Baldwin, another orphan, planning to rob him. Unfortunately, Foster speaks so rapidly that much of what he says is lost or obfuscated. My companion and I (neither of us with much hearing loss) kept wondering what was going on.

Richmond Shepard
Kinky Boots
Al Hirschfeld Theater

Kinky Bootsis a great show. With book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, this broad romp about shoe manufacturing for a small niche, directed and choreographed with verve and lots of zip by Jerry Mitchell, is a hoot from start to finish.

Billy Porter as the lead transvestite fills the theater with his voice and radiance. Annaleigh Ashford’s performance, as a factory worker and the owner’s girlfriend wannabe, shows us a comedic gem (and fine singer) in a role that should be a breakthrough into stardom for her.

Richmond Shepard
Revisionist, The
Cherry Lane Theater

Congratulations to Jessie Eisenberg: the kid is workin’. Somehow he got Vanessa Redgrave to co-star with him in his play, The Revisionist,about a young man who visits his old Polish cousin, a holocaust survivor. Redgrave gives a strong, moving, many-layered performance. In giving us a rapid-fire nervous portrayal of a writer under pressure, Eisenberg’s snappy delivery obscures some of his words. Daniel Oreskes is fine as a handy handyman.

Richmond Shepard
Jekyll & Hyde
Marquis Theater

Jekyll & Hyde, book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, music by Frank Wildhorn, is LOUD. It starts off with a deafening blast of sound. Then leading man Constantine Maroulis howls and yowls his songs as he overacts, unrestrained by director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun. The songs aren’t particularly memorable, so, as we say in show business, “we walk out whistling the scenery,” (which Tobin Ost has designed with a wonderful contemporary sense of abstraction).

Deborah Cox and Teal Wicks are quite fine as J/H’s women, and so are the rest of the cast. Sorry.

Richmond Shepard
Cinderella
Broadway Theater

The rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderellanow running on Broadway is a great show with fun tangents to the original story by book writer Douglas Cater Beane and spectacular, imaginative, active sets by Anna Louizos. It’s beautifully lighted by Kenneth Posner and offers wild splashes of costume by William Ivey Long.

Richmond Shepard
Cocktales
Gershwin Hotel

Cocktales (Confessions of a Nymphomaniac) by Tjasa Ferme is a wild and crazy performance-art romp starring Ferme in which she outlines her sexual history -- a journey from virgin to gangbang that is raw, funny, and totally entertaining.

Richmond Shepard
Jeeves in Bloom
Milwaukee Chamber Theater

Nothing says “spring in Milwaukee” more than the “Jeeves” series by playwright Margaret Raether, based on the writings of PG Wodehouse. The latest effort, Jeeves in Bloom, follows on the heels of a successful 2010 run of Jeeves Intervenes.Both productions are by Milwaukee Chamber Theater.

Anne Siegel
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
John Golden Theater

Maybe it’s the mellowing that comes with age, maybe it’s the humaneness of Anton Chekhov rubbing off on him, or maybe it’s just the worldview that seemed right for this particular play. Whatever got into Christopher Durang in writing his latest comedy, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, it’s a wonderful tonic that has allowed him to create what may be the most joyful and satisfying work of his career.

David Lefkowitz
Jekyll & Hyde
Marquis Theater

It’s the question heard over and over again whenever modern Broadway musicals are discussed: What do the critics have against Frank Wildhorn? Does their aversion stem from his leaping out of pop/country music directly onto Broadway, instead of toiling away at some musical-theater workshop or drama school? Is it because he has endured a string of flops yet has little trouble bringing projects to New York, whereas, for the past two decades, some of Broadway’s most legendary talents had to settle for revivals because their new material couldn’t scare up enough investors?

David Lefkowitz
Assembled Parties, The
Samuel J. Friedman Theater

In his new dramedy, The Assembled Parties, premiering on Broadway at MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theater, Richard Greenberg bites off more than we can chew. The prolific and undeniably gifted playwright (who snagged a well-deserved Tony for 2003’s Take Me Out), obviously loves both the interconnections between characters and the beauty of a well-chosen word.

David Lefkowitz
Side Show
The Players

Based on a true story of “Siamese” twins who achieved show biz and then film fame in the ‘1930s, “Side Show” questions whether such “freaks” can ever be, as they sing, “Like Everyone Else.” Or is their destiny to be objects to see but not emotionally touch, as their cohorts urge the audience, to “Come Look at the Freaks”?

Marie J. Kilker
Apartment 3A
Tenth Street Theater

As the final production in its current season, Milwaukee’s In Tandem Theater revives a popular show from its past. Apartment 3A, written by noted film actor Jeff Daniels (“Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Dumb and Dumber”), was first produced by In Tandem eleven years ago. Its conversations about sex, religion and relationships haven’t changed all that much since 1996, when the play was written. However, a number of long, dry sections of dialogue drag down what otherwise would have been a light comedy.

Anne Siegel
Living Out
Boulevard Theater

“You can’t have it all,” mourns a new mother in Lisa Loomer’s thought-provoking comedy, Living Out. The show, which premiered in 2003 at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, recently made its Wisconsin debut at Milwaukee’s Boulevard Theater. In essence, Living Outis an exploration of modern women who are confronted by the conflicting demands of careers and motherhood.

Anne Siegel
Cinderella
Broadway Theater

How many balls does Cinderella have? No, that’s not the set-up for a tranny joke, it’s a question Douglas Carter Beane must have asked himself many times when adapting a 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein television musical for the Broadway stage. In some traditional Cinderella stories, there are three huge parties, with the prince smearing the floor with pitch in the third so his new beloved can’t run away (her shoe gets stuck – you know the rest). In the 1950 Disney film, we get two French mice but only one ball, in which Cindy accidentally loses her shoe (you sort of know the rest).

David Lefkowitz
Catch Me if You Can
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

There’s a lot of dazzle and little in the way of character development in Catch Me If You Can, which recently toured in Milwaukee. Based on the 2002 Dreamworks film and the true story that inspired it, Catch Mechronicles the rise and fall of con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr. Remarkably, Abagnale was able to pass himself off as a pilot, doctor and lawyer before being caught by the FBI. All this happened before Abagnale was 21. By then, he had cashed nearly $2 million in counterfeit checks.

Anne Siegel
Old Hats
Pershing Square Signature Center

I don’t know whether Picasso and Dali ever shared a canvas, or if you could mash up Beethoven and Mozart into a decent concerto, but audiences at off-Broadway’s splendiferously reconstituted Pershing Square Signature Center can at least watch two grandmasters of silent physical comedy, Bill Irwin and David Shiner, plying their trade on a single stage. Of course, those of us with long memories will recall with delirious fondness Fool Moon,Shiner and Irwin’s great pairing that ran off-Broadway in 1993 and returned to enrapture theatergoers two more times.

David Lefkowitz
Slipping
Lillian Theater

Young men in torment over their sexual persuasion is the theme of Slipping, the contemporary drama by Daniel Talbott now in its L.A. premiere at the Lillian Theater. Talbott is a New York-based playwright who serves as literary manager of the Rattlestick Theater, the producing body behind Slipping, a play that has been mounted previously in Chicago and New York.

Willard Manus
When the World was Green
Raymond James Theater

In a whitewashed, brick-walled cell, the Old Man awaits execution for murder. He spent his life pursuing Carl, a cousin. Carl descended from a man who poisoned a mule owned and relied on for a living by the Old Man’s family.

A young woman comes to interview the Old Man. Between his talking to her and us, we learn he came from a “village full of cooking odors.” Through Michael Edwards’ tears (and one of various projected atmospheric pictures off to the stage’s side), the Old Man lets us “see” the boat where the killer was caught trying to escape.

Marie J. Kilker
Matilda
Shubert Theater

It’s magical, it’s musical, it’s Matilda, a precocious-plus little girl, disdained by her parents and tortured by her headmistress. Dennis Kelly’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) popular 1988 novel for children captivates Broadway audiences in a Royal Shakespeare Company production just as it has thrilled London theater-goers. The 2012-2013 musical theater season is finally percolating.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Mound Builders, The
Signature Theater

After days, weeks and even months of dusting away the dirt concealing the interiors of the mysterious mounds built along and near the amazing confluence of the Wabash, Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers — finding mostly small fragments of old pots — imagine the excitement of the excavation team in finally discovering the golden death mask of a great god/priest king of the mound builders.

Glenn Loney
Dance and the Railroad, The
Signature Theater

When the great California Gold Rush was announced in 1849, and single Chinese men began crossing the Pacific to The Golden Mountain—which was their generic name for the gold fields — an immigration pattern was established. In hopes of making a pile and returning to China as rich men, they endured all kinds of hardships and frequent insults from the hated white devils who let them do their laundry.

Talley's Folly
Laura Pels Theater

Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson are superb and heartbreaking in the Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly,staged by Michael Wilson.

Matt Friedman has survived pogroms and anti-Semitic horrors, both in Eastern Europe and in France, before and during the war to end all wars. Now America is in the thick of World War II, but he has not enlisted, which makes Sally Talley wonder about his dedication to his adopted country. But there is a bigger problem in his curious courtship of the reluctant Sally: he is not only older, he’s Jewish!

Glenn Loney
Shaheed
Culture Project

Former Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has a lot to answer for. Did you know that she sent former Pakistani premiere Benazir Bhutto back to Pakistan, where she faced almost certain death? Bhutto was a beautiful pawn in America’s worldwide great game of thrones.

Currently, down at the Culture Project at 45 Bleecker Street, the remarkable Anna Khaja is bringing Bhutto back to life — only to kill her off again, at the close of Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto, which she also wrote.

Glenn Loney
Kinky Boots
Al Hirschfeld Theater

Here’s the new Broadway musical you’ve been waiting for – and how could you go wrong with sexy songs by Cyndi Lauper, a tranny fable by Harvey Fierstein, and Jerry Mitchell’s dynamic direction and supercharged choreography? Hairspray Harvey currently has two blockbuster musicals on Broadway: both Kinky Boots and Newsies!. His book for Bootsis based on a movie that had the same name as the Musical, but you may not have seen it, as there were no vampires, space aliens or zombies in it.

Glenn Loney
King Executioner
Theater for the New City

What was it like when the Nazis were in Poland and Polish Jews were in hiding, in fear for their lives? What was it like for simple village Peasants, before the Nazis invaded Poland & occupied everywhere?

Tadeusz Nowak’s 1968 novel, “A Jak Krolem a Jak Katem Bedzies,” has been charmingly transformed into a marionette ppic by Vit Horejs for his Czech-American Marionette Theater.

Glenn Loney
Hands on a Hardbody
Brooks Atkinson Theter

From Herbert Hoover’s “two cars in every garage” to winning a Nissan Pickup, with no garage at all – talk about product placement! In the new Broadway musical, Hands on Hardbody,a cherry-red Nissan hardbody pickup sits centerstage. It is virtually the only prop of major proportions onstage and provides most of the scenery.

Glenn Loney

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